Former top China army officer under house arrest in graft probe: Sources

Former top China army officer under house arrest in graft probe: Sources
In this file photo, General Xu Caihou salutes during his speech greeting the launch of China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu Province, November 1, 2011.

BEIJING - A top retired Chinese general has been put under virtual house arrest while he assists with an investigation into the military's worst corruption scandal in almost a decade, two sources said, an indication the probe might be expanding.

General Xu Caihou, 70, who retired as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission last year and from the Communist Party's decision-making politburo in 2012, was taken to an undisclosed location on Monday for questioning by anti-corruption investigators, the two sources told Reuters. "Xu Caihou's secretaries, bodyguards and driver have been changed to cut off his links with the outside world," one of the sources said, adding that members of his family had also been detained.

The sources, who have direct knowledge of the matter, said Xu was helping with a probe into Lieutenant-General Gu Junshan, 57, who has been under investigation for corruption since he was sacked as deputy director of the logistics department of the People's Liberation Army in 2012.

Gu is suspected of enriching himself by abusing his position as a senior military officer, in what would be the military's worst scandal since a vice admiral was jailed for life for embezzlement in 2006, sources have previously said.

Xu was one of Gu's main supporters in his rise through the ranks and hence is being implicated in ignoring, or at least failing to report, Gu's alleged misdeeds.

Neither Xu nor Gu could be contacted for comment and it was not clear if either man had a lawyer. Neither the Defence Ministry nor the party's anti-corruption watchdog responded to requests for comment.

President Xi Jinping has talked tough on corruption since taking over the party in late 2012 and then the presidency a year ago.

But Xi is in a dilemma over whether to court-martial Xu lest it undermine the PLA's image and risk splitting the military's ranks, as Xu has many supporters in the PLA, the two sources added.

Xu has offered self-criticism in private to the leadership over his ties to Gu, the sources said. Self criticism in China is a common way of admitting your errors in the hope of more lenient treatment.

"But there is tremendous pressure on the leadership to go after Xu Caihou and Gu Junshan," the second source said. "Gu Junshan will be expelled from the party and court-martialed soon. Investigations have ended. The case has been turned over to the military prosecutor's office."

Xu had been getting treatment for bladder cancer at a PLA hospital in Beijing before he was detained, the sources said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to reporters about the case.

That diagnosis may ultimately get him off the hook, said a third source with ties to the military. "Xu was Gu's strong backer, but the party will probably not charge Xu because he has cancer," the third source said, referring to the possibility Xu himself would be charged with graft.

Xu was last seen in public on Jan. 20, when state media reported he had attended a Chinese New Year gala for retired military officers, an event President Xi also went to.

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