Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan openly challenged disgraced party chief Bo Xilai at a high-level meeting early this year when Bo announced his decision to sack the municipality's police chief, Wang Lijun .
A source familiar with the Chongqing municipal government quoted Huang as telling a meeting of top-ranking municipal officials in mid-April, soon after Bo's membership of the Communist Party Politburo was suspended, that: 'During a meeting with standing committee members of the party's municipal committee, when he [Bo] brought up the suggestion of sacking Wang as police chief, I raised the question of whether it was necessary to ask for the central leadership's approval beforehand.
'All of a sudden, he [Bo] got so infuriated that he pounded the table, before yelling at me and ordering me to get out, right away. I went out of the room and that's why I did not vote on the decision to remove Wang.'
The source said: 'One of his hands kept trembling when he recalled that incident.'
The news of Wang's dismissal as Chongqing's police chief broke on February 2, a few days before he tried to defect at the US consulate in Chengdu , the capital of neighbouring Sichuan province.
Beijing-based independent political analyst Chen Ziming said Bo, well-known for his fiery leadership style in Chongqing, had made up his mind to protect his family and sack Wang after the alleged murder of Briton Neil Heywood. Bo's wife Gu Kailai is a suspect in the alleged murder.
'Bo was well aware that the firing of his police chief needed the central government's consent in the first place,' Chen said. 'But in the hope of having things done in accordance with his will, he chose to use an overriding ... attitude to overwhelm potential opponents.'
Chen said Wang's removal was a turning point in the whole scandal and if what Huang had said was true, he had obviously managed to distance himself from Bo's grave mistake by failing to support Bo's decision to cover up the alleged murder.
'It is more likely that Huang has been totally kept in the dark about the alleged killing of the British businessman,' Chen said.
'Just like Han Zheng's case, the central leadership will keep Huang and maintain Chongqing's status quo, as long as they succeed in finding a handy excuse to do so. The last thing they would like to do is to dismiss both the party and government heads of a region at the same time.'
Han, Shanghai's mayor, was reportedly implicated in the scandal surrounding disgraced Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu , who was sacked for corruption in 2006 and later jailed, but Han kept his job after Chen's downfall.
The source said Huang was in almost no danger of being dismissed because of the Bo scandal.
Another source said the close ties between Huang and Wu Bangguo , who ranks No 2 on the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, might also have played a role in keeping Huang safe.
Huang helped Wu tackle debt problems in the northeast in the 1990s, the source said.
It is widely believed that the deposing of Wang was one of the key factors that prompted him to break with Bo, his boss and former close ally. Huang, Wang's boss, rushed to Chengdu in a failed attempt to urge him to return to Chongqing, prompting some to link him to the Bo scandal.