China's Anticorruption Commission Investigates Senior Official

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HONG KONG -- China's anticorruption commission has opened an investigation into the deputy party secretary of Sichuan Province, official news media reported on Wednesday, making him the first senior official to be identified as a target of the commission since the country's new leadership took power at the Communist Party's congress in Beijing three weeks ago.

The official, Li Chuncheng, 56, did not attend an important provincial Communist Party gathering on Tuesday and has not been seen in public since Nov. 19, the official Xinhua news agency said, without saying whether he had been detained. Although not on a career track that would be likely to take him to the highest echelons of the Chinese government, he was named at the party congress as one of 171 alternate members of the Central Committee; there are 205 full members.

Communist Party officials like Mr. Li face a sometimes harsh investigative process that is separate from the country's judicial system, although party investigations can often lead to prosecution by the judiciary as well. Xinhua deleted its article about Mr. Li from its Web site early Wednesday afternoon, possibly a sign that public release of the announcement had not been fully vetted.

The investigation of Mr. Li comes as Xi Jinping, the new general secretary of the Communist Party, is trying to make an anticorruption campaign one of the first hallmarks of his tenure. Mr. Xi emphasized the fight against corruption in his inaugural address after taking office on Nov. 15, and in his first speech to the Politburo he warned that failing to act against corruption would "doom the party and the state."

Wang Qishan, a vice prime minister who has one of the strongest reputations in China for pursuing economic and financial changes, joined the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee at the party congress and was put in charge of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which he is expected to invigorate through his extensive contacts in the country's banks.

Mr. Wang has relatively few of the conflicts of interest of other top Chinese officials because he does not have children, said a longtime friend of Mr. Wang's who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Wang's wife, who comes from a very influential family, was permanently disabled when a mob attacked her during the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976.

Social media postings suggest that corruption is a source of widespread anger and resentment in China. Several local officials have already been forced to step aside in recent weeks after revelations that they had far greater assets than could be explained by legal investments.

A local official in Chongqing, Lei Zhengfu, was detained last week after a five-year-old sex video circulated on the Internet showing him with a woman, then 18, who had reportedly been retained by a real estate developer to gather blackmail material on public officials involved in allocating public land.

The investigation of Mr. Li follows the detention since August of Dai Xiaoming, the chairman of the Chengdu Industry Investment Group, on suspicion that he may have bribed government officials in Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital, in order to obtain access to the province's lucrative oil industry.

Neither Mr. Li nor Mr. Dai has been charged with any crime. The news office at the Sichuan provincial Communist Party headquarters said that Mr. Li was not around and that no information about him was available. A woman answering the phone at Mr. Dai's corporate headquarters said that Mr. Dai had not been seen there for a long time, and she declined to elaborate.

The investigation of Mr. Li drew particular attention on social media inside and outside China because of speculation about whether it might be tied to a much broader factional struggle over the past year. That struggle has pitted advocates of legal and economic changes against partisans of a return to Maoist campaigns, sometimes unconstrained by the rule of law, against perceived enemies of the state.

Bo Xilai, the populist party secretary of Chongqing, was purged from the Politburo in the spring and is awaiting trial on a variety of charges involving abuse of power after his police chief, Wang Lijun, briefly fled to the American Consulate in Chengdu in February. Mr. Bo's chief ally, Zhou Yongkang, who ran the country's internal security agencies until his retirement from the Politburo Standing Committee at the recent party congress, directly oversaw the country's oil industry through much of the 1990s.

Mr. Zhou was then party secretary of Sichuan Province from 1999 to 2002, before returning to Beijing as minister of public security.

According to China Vitae, a Web site that tracks the biographies and public appearances of Chinese officials, Mr. Li studied electrical motors at a university in Harbin, a chilly metropolis in the northeastern corner of China. He then worked his way up the Communist Party ladder there until 1998, when he was transferred to Sichuan, initially as vice mayor of Chengdu.

But his career has already been delayed once, pushing him off the fast track that can lead to Politburo membership. Mr. Li was an alternate member of the Communist Party's Central Committee from 2002 to 2007. He then failed to win another term and was off the committee until his re-election three weeks ago.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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