China's hopes for a smooth, once-a-decade political transition have been shaken by a lurid new scandal involving the death of a senior official's son who crashed during what may have been sex games in a speeding Ferrari.
Details of the March accident in Beijing, which allegedly also left two young women injured, have stayed under wraps in China but are leaking out via media in Hong Kong. The media blackout underscores official fears that the public will be outraged by another instance of excess and recklessness among China's power elites.
The embarrassing new wrinkle follows revelations that the wife of a top leader poisoned her British business associate last year. Both scandals have become bargaining chips in the jockeying for power ahead of a major leadership reshuffle this fall.
The South China Morning Post on Monday cited an unnamed official in Beijing as confirming that Ling Gu, the son of a loyal aide to President Hu Jintao, was the person killed in a March 18 Ferrari accident which initially garnered minimal and cryptic coverage in China's state media.
The report said Ling was half-naked when the crash occurred and his two passengers were naked or half-dressed, suggesting they had been involved in some kind of high-speed sex game.
The Post's story came just days after the Chinese government announced Ling Gu's father had been transferred to a new position, a move that analysts say ended his ambitions for a post in the upper ranks of the top leadership. They said the shift appeared linked to his son's scandalous death.
On Saturday, Ling Jihua was named as the new head of the United Front Work Department and his old job as director of the general office of the Communist Party's central committee was given to Li Zhanshu — thought to be an ally of Xi Jinping, tipped to be China's next president.
Some analysts have said the shuffle appears to be a victory for Xi and a blow to Hu's camp.