The Communist Party's top graft-busting agency recently sent dozens of disciplinary officials to Maoming , Guangdong, to reopen an investigation into a massive corruption scandal that brought down the city's former party chief and more than 300 local officials, a person familiar with the matter said.
"The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) stationed a task force of more than 70 graft-busters in Maoming last month in order to review the wide-ranging corruption case triggered by the downfall of the city's former party secretary Luo Yinguo ," the source said.
A vice-ministerial-level official, Zhou Zhenhong , was the highest-ranking official brought down by the Maoming scandal. He was the province's United Front Work Department chief and preceded Luo as Maoming's party boss.
"Zhou will probably stand trial in Henan province in the near future," said the source. "And most members of the CCDI task force are prosecutors from the central province [Henan], which may suggest that more officials, including those at high levels, will be implicated in the graft scandal."
The source said former Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang had called a halt to the investigation before the party's national congress in November and had announced a special, one-off pardon, saying no further investigation would be conducted as long as those involved surrendered all their illicit gains.
The latest investigation was a result of President Xi Jinping's pledge to crack down on corrupt officials, regardless of their seniority - targeting "big tigers" and "small flies" - the source said. If corruption was not curbed, it would pose a very real threat to the party's continued rule, Xi had warned.
Luo was arrested in February 2011 and charged with exploiting his office to receive bribes and possessing a large amount of assets from unidentified sources.
Some mainland media outlets reported that up to 10 million yuan (HK$12.5 million) in cash was found at his home and office and suggested the money could have been bribes he received in the lead-up to the Spring Festival in 2011.
Other reports said Luo had many passports in different fake identities and many photographs showing him on overseas tours with various mistresses, some of them officials.
He collaborated with disciplinary officials and implicated more than 100 allegedly corrupt local officials.
As a result, the party's provincial anti-graft watchdog said in April last year that 303 officials - including 24 at the prefectural level and 218 at the county level - were sacked, with more than 60 prosecuted. Luo himself has yet to stand trial.
The scandal was one of the most far-reaching and high-profile corruption cases during Wang's five-year tenure as Guangdong's party secretary. Wang became a vice-premier in March.
There had been speculation before the party congress that Wang was a contender for the position of CCDI head, which would also have secured him a seat on the party's supreme decision-making Politburo Standing Committee, but he missed out on both positions.
"In the eyes of ordinary people, all the officials toppled in the Maoming scandal, including Zhou, were low-ranking 'small flies', rather than senior, clout-wielding 'big tigers'," Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said, adding that not even National Development and Reform Commission deputy director Liu Tienan , who was sacked last Tuesday after being accused of corruption, qualified as a "big tiger".
Lau said Xi had to be willing to remove cadres from higher offices if he was to win plaudits at home and abroad.