The de facto head of Shanghai's free-trade zone is expected to step down, five separate sources have said, likely striking another blow to the already struggling economic project ahead of its first anniversary. Dai Haibo, the zone's executive deputy director overseeing daily operations, was suspected of disciplinary violations, said the sources, which included Shanghai government officials. Dai would be forced to step down, they said. "A final verdict has yet to be given, but it's almost certain that he will be at least suspended from the job temporarily," said one official. "It's not clear whether he will face further punishment." Dai, 52, might be allowed to remain in his other main role as deputy secretary general of the municipal government, sources said. He is also in charge of a local taskforce on port affairs. The administrative committee of the trade zone could not be reached for comment. Dai made an appearance on Friday, chairing a government conference on ports, but his title as the free-trade zone chief was not used. The zone's English website, however, was still showing Dai with his title yesterday. Shanghai's free-trade zone has struggled to gain economic traction since its launch on September 29 last year. More than 10,000 businesses have been registered in the zone, according to the committee, but many potential investors say the pledged liberalised regulatory framework has yet to materialise. The timing of the investigation into Dai coincides with inspections by a patrol team sent by the Communist Party's anti-graft body to the mainland's financial hub in late July. Wang Qishan , chief of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, visited last week but the purpose of the trip was not known, according to three government sources. The sources said the concerns over Dai might relate to previous jobs before his role at the zone. Dai, a technocrat with experience attracting foreign funds to economic zones, had been touted by local officials as ideal for the top management role. "He knows what needs to be done to welcome foreign funds and he has a good command of economics and industries," said a Pudong government official. "His departure or sacking could somewhat slow down progress in developing the free-trade zone."