The Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog vowed yesterday that no sector or political rank would be off limits from its corruption crackdown - a statement that appeared to further set the stage for an expected probe into the former security tsar.
In a statement assessing its actions since Xi Jinping became party chief 13 months ago, the Central Commission and for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) trumpeted investigations of 18 ministerial-level officials. It said the anti-graft campaign would know no "restricted areas".
"We have said no matter who or how senior one is, so long as he violated party discipline and state law, he would be seriously dealt with and punished," the agency said, quoting an undated statement by Xi. "This is absolutely not empty talk."
The statement was the latest in a series of high-profile moves in the anti-corruption drive, which sources say has targeted former security tsar Zhou Yongkang, a retired member of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee.
This week, Xi told a group of judges and law enforcement officers from around the country that they must fight corruption and "clean up the black sheep" in their ranks. A separate Xinhua report yesterday described 2013 as "the year that the war on corruption was declared".
The CCDI is expected to hold a press conference in Beijing this morning to review its accomplishments last year.
A 31,000-word report titled the"2013 China Anti-corruption Report" was posted briefly on the commission's website yesterday and taken offline. However, Xinhua's website retained a copy of the full text.
The report said last year's crackdown on corrupted officials had created a sense of awe among officials while exercising their powers. "Such awe has greatly washed away resistance to [the country's] further reform," the report said.
Li Chengyan , a professor at Peking University's School of Government, said the CCDI's anti-graft report covered many influential issues and cases, which gave people the impression that a case against Zhou would be announced soon.
"President Xi said in January last year - in the very beginning of the anti-graft campaign - that tigers and flies should both be caught," Li said. "Now that the small tigers have been seized, what about the big one? There must be an answer."
But Professor Zhang Ming , of Renmin University, said Xi's broader goal was targeting corruption among the country's powerful special interests. "The battle against Zhou is just one step and will not be the end of this plan," Ming said.
The CCDI said anti-graft agencies across the mainland received 1.95 million reports from informants last year - an increase of 49.2 per cent over 2012. Meanwhile, 182,000 cadres were punished for violating party discipline.
The commission said it had investigated 83,000 cases in rural areas and punished 87,000 officials.
The agency also said last year's crackdown on corruption had shown the top leaders of the party have "zero tolerance" for graft, no matter the officials are "tigers" or "flies".