Three senior allies of China's former security chief and a top retired general were expelled from the ruling Communist Party over corruption today as the noose tightened around one of China's most powerful men.
The expulsions -- and the transfer of their cases to judicial authorities for criminal prosecution -- are the latest signal that Zhou Yongkang, once a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China's most powerful body, is being targeted.
His fall would send shockwaves through China's political establishment. PSC members have generally been regarded as untouchable even after retirement.
Jiang Jiemin, head of China's state-owned assets watchdog, and former vice minister of public security Li Dongsheng were stripped of their party membership, according to the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection (CCDI), the party's internal watchdog.
Both men had previously been sacked from their jobs for graft and are closely linked to Zhou, a former top China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) official.
A third man -- Wang Yongchun, a former CNPC vice president who was Zhou's assistant when he worked at the major Chinese oilfield of Daqing -- has also been expelled from the party, the CCDI said.
Separately, Xu Caihou, the former vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, was expelled from the party over graft and his case handed over to prosecutors, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
The 71-year-old Xu was until 2012 a member of the Communist Party's elite 25-strong Politburo, which oversees Chinese politics and legal affairs.
He is its first former member to fall in the current crackdown, which follows the ascension of Xi Jinping to power at the head of the party.
The decision to expel him was made at a Politburo meeting presided over by Xi, Xinhua reported.
Investigators found Xu took advantage of his post to secure promotions for individuals and accepted bribes personally and via family members, Xinhua quoted a statement issued after the meeting as saying.
"The whole party and armed forces should be fully aware of the time-consuming, complicated and tough mission to fight corruption," the statement added.
"Anyone, no matter what authority and office he holds, will receive serious punishment if violating Party disciplines and laws. We will never compromise nor show mercy."