The Communist Party's main mouthpiece has pointed the finger at party and law enforcement officials for protecting a Sichuan billionaire who allegedly ran a mafia-type gang.
The security apparatus was the power base of Zhou Yongkang when he was in charge of law and order on the Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision-making body.
The reports signal the endgame in one of China's most significant corruption probes in decades.
People's Daily ran a full page of stories yesterday promising to expose the powerful people protecting disgraced mining tycoon Liu Han and his allegedly massive crime syndicate. While it stopped short of naming Zhou, the paper said officials from the security community had made it possible for "Liu's gang" to get away with crimes.
"One of the main reasons why Liu Han's gang could expand was that some members of the local party and government and judicial officials protected them … That 'protective umbrella' will be revealed as investigations into Liu's case continue," a commentary said.
The article was published alongside a Xinhua report about the indictment of Liu and his alleged accomplices, as well as a report detailing the billionaire's alleged crimes. According to the reports, police in Hubei seized three grenades, 20 guns, 677 bullets, and 2,163 steel ball bullets since the probe into Liu began in April last year.
The opinion piece went further, saying Liu's gang went to party officials, law enforcement and the judiciary for protection.
"Liu's gang managed to make certain officials in the provincial political and law department turn a blind eye to their crimes, to keep the investigation into their crimes on hold, and to destroy evidence. They even had the county chief that failed to follow their orders fired," the opinion piece said.
Liu's case has coincided with the detention of several senior officials in Sichuan province, another of Zhou's power bases.
Since December 2012, Zhou's aides in Sichuan have fallen in succession, including former deputy governor Guo Yongxiang , former deputy party secretary Li Chongxi , and another deputy party secretary, Li Chuncheng .
While People's Daily did not name Zhou, it said that Liu had won the bid to develop a tourist attraction in Sichuan, Mount Siguniang, in 2000, shortly after Zhou Yongkang was appointed party secretary of the province.
"Hand me the development project or you will be removed from your position," Liu reportedly told the county head who was in charge of the project, People's Daily said.
The Beijing Times also ran a report highlighting Liu's close ties with the Sichuan security apparatus, and noted that many of its officials sacked in the recent anti-corruption campaign had links to Zhou.
Caixin.com , the first mainland media outlet to report the connection between Liu Han and Zhou Bin , Zhou Yongkang's son, ran an article headed, "Sichuan tycoon Liu Han used to be Zhou Bin's business partner".
Prosecutors said Liu, 48, and his 44-year-old brother, Liu Wei, also known as Liu Yong, were the leaders of a crime gang behind the deaths of at least nine people.