The first ever corruption investigation in decades against a former member of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been initiated, a news report said on Friday.
The Party elite has agreed to investigate charges of corruption against former internal security chief, Zhou Yongkang, part of the nine-member Standing Committee that was replaced by the new leadership last year.
The investigation – yet to be confirmed by the government and not yet reported by the state-controlled media – could eclipse in significance the trial of former Politburo member, Bo Xilai that ended earlier this week, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
The probe, if confirmed, will be President Xi Jinping’s latest attack on graft in high places.
Bo, who is awaiting sentencing after being indicted of corruption and abuse of power, was considered an ally of Zhou and the latter, it is believed, tried to install Bo in the currently seven-member Standing Committee while on his way out.
Zhou held a post higher than Bo in the CPC structure and his apparent support for the flamboyant Bo and his Mao-era policies did not please many of his Party peers.
The report said that no Politburo Standing Committee member - retired or sitting - has been investigated for economic crimes since the end of the Cultural Revolution nearly 40 years ago.
Zhou’s name had come up during the time when investigations were initiated against Bo and his family last year.
His family including his son is learnt to have left China in the past few weeks.
The former security chief, considered a hardliner, continued to make infrequent public appearances after leaving office.
Recent investigations launched against top officials in China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has also been linked to Zhou; he was CNPC general manager in the mid-1990s and is to be influential in the sector.
On Thursday, CNPC, Asia's largest oil and gas producer, removed four senior executives under investigation for "serious violations of discipline" from their posts.
Among them was Wang Yongchun, a deputy general manager with the CNPC.
The SCMP report said that the probe on Zhou will centre on Zhou's time in Sichuan (where he was secretary of the provincial party committee) and at CNPC.
"In particular, investigators will examine whether Zhou and his family benefited through numerous questionable oilfield and property deals facilitated by his son, Zhou Bin, and other allies," sources told SCMP.
Zhou, interestingly, graduated from the Exploration Department of the Beijing Petroleum Institute in the 1960s. He went on to hold various offices across the country in the oil exploration sector.