Chinese censors have deleted an investigative report on the son of China’s former security tsar Zhou Yongkang only hours after it appeared on Wednesday.
The article appeared in the print version of the Beijing News but was deleted from its website on Wednesday morning, hours after its publication online. It detailed how companies tied to Zhou’s 41-year-old son, Zhou Bin, had profited from a public housing project in a Beijing suburb.
Zhou Bin was formally detained in December and could face bribery charges, sources told the South China Morning Post in January .
Critical articles on senior leaders and their children have been unthinkable in the past. Zhou Yongkang served as a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee until 2012 and is understood to be the highest-profile target of a graft investigation in China in recent history.
Yet, the spiking of the article comes as a surprise. Earlier this week, censors have allowed mainland media to link Zhou Bin with Sichuan mining tycoon Liu Han , who stands accused of running a crime gang.
On Tuesday, China Business Journal alleged  that Zhou Bin helped raise funds for a Ding Xuefeng, the mayor of Luliang in Shanxi province, who also faces a graft probe.
In November last year, the financial magazine Caixin  also tied Zhou Bin, who once served as chairman of Beijing Zhongxu Yangguang Petroleum and Natural Gas Technology, to a graft investigation in China’s state-led petroleum industry, in which his father was a leading executive in the 1990s.
The Beijing News article on Wednesday alleged that the younger Zhou’s right-hand man in petroleum deals, Mi Xiaodong, was also involved in a public housing project. Mi was detained by graft investigators in early October last year.
Through interviews dating back to December and using Beijing company filings, Beijing News reporters traced the project to a series of companies owned by Zhou’s mother-in-law, Zhan Minli, and Mi.
Zhou and Mi’s ties date back to their time as roommates at Southwest Petroleum University in Chengdu, the report alleges.
Qiuhai Xurong Real Estate Development, a company controlled by Mi and Liu’s mother-in-law, was awarded the right to build 2,012 apartments on land in Beijing's northern suburbs, the Beijing News reported. Nankou State Farm, which held rights to the land for the housing project, held a minority stake in the company that was awarded the contract.
In 2010, Zhou Bin’s two associates sold their share to a third company, the report said, passing on the buck to develop the site. Construction has since stalled, the newspaper said, citing a man tending goats at the construction site.
If the newspaper's published stories have been deleted in the past, the Beijing Internet Information Office was to blame, a person familiar with the matter said. Searches for Zhou Bin's name are blocked on Chinese social media sites.
However, several major Chinese news portals, including Sina.com.cn, and the website of the official Xinhua News Agency, also carried the same report on Wednesday, and they were still accessible as of Wednesday afternoon.
The younger Zhou has contacted several lawyers seeking legal assistance over possible bribery charges, sources have told the Post.
The probe surrounding Zhou Yongkang and his associates has been widening, with another round of senior officials and state enterprise executives tied to Zhou detained in recent weeks.