A former right-hand man of retired public security tsar Zhou Yongkang has been placed under investigation by the Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog, in the latest sign that the net is closing around the retired political heavyweight.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) issued a brief statement last night announcing that Ji Wenlin - a deputy Hainan governor who served as a top Zhou aide for a decade - was being investigated for "serious disciplinary violations". The statement provided no additional details, although CCDI routinely uses the phrase as a euphemism for corruption.
Ji is only the latest Zhou associate to be implicated in corruption amid a wide-ranging probe centred on Zhou's former political power bases of Sichuan province, the state oil sector and the domestic security apparatus.
The corruption investigation into Zhou, a retired member of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee, is without precedent and members of the elite panel have long been considered politically untouchable.
President Xi Jinping secured party elders' consent for the highly sensitive probe in August during the secretive annual policy planning conclave at the Beidaihe resort.
Zhang Ming , a political scientist at Renmin University, said authorities still appeared to be trying to gather evidence on Zhou and it was unclear when the findings would be announced.
"One possibility is that the authorities are having some difficulty in gathering proof that Zhou is directly and personally involved in the corruption as opposed to doing it through his family," Zhang said.
Ji, 47, has been close to Zhou since at least 1998, when Zhou led the Ministry of Land and Resources. Ji, a geologist, was Zhou's secretary and a researcher.
Zhou took Ji along when he became Sichuan party boss in 1999, making him deputy director of the general office of the provincial party committee.
When Zhou ascended to powerful post of public security minister in 2003, he made Ji his secretary and a deputy director of the ministry's general office. In July 2008, Ji was named deputy director of a ministerial group tasked with maintaining social stability, but moved back to the land ministry five months later.
Ji was elevated to become Hainan's deputy governor last year, after a stint as deputy party chief of the provincial capital Haikou .
Other former Zhou aides under investigation for corruption include Guo Yongxiang , a former deputy Sichuan governor, and Li Dongsheng , a former vice-minister of public security. Ji last appeared in public last Friday, when he attended a provincial disciplinary meeting chaired by Hainan party chief Luo Baoming .
The previous day, he had called for a crackdown against illegal building and for new regulations to be used to control property development.