China leadership contender under investigation: sources

By Philip Wen and Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) – A senior Chinese official who was considered a contender for top leadership has been put under investigation, three sources with ties to the leadership said, ahead of a Communist Party congress in the autumn where Xi Jinping will cement his grip on power.

Sun Zhengcai had been party chief of the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing, until an abrupt announcement on Saturday morning that he no longer had the position and had been replaced by a rising political star close to President Xi.

The announcement, carried by state news agency Xinhua, did not say Sun either had a new position or use wording to suggest he was waiting for a further appointment.

A source who has been briefed on the matter said Sun is suspected of “serious discipline violations”, a term that can encompass everything from taking bribes to not toeing the party line. The source added that it was a “conversation investigation”, meaning it’s not yet at the stage of a formal probe.

A second source with ties to the leadership told Reuters that Sun is undergoing investigation for suspected “violation of political discipline”. The source declined to elaborate.

“But he is still a comrade. He is still a Politburo member,” the source said, referring to the party’s 25-member decision-making body.

Officials are stripped of their title “comrade” once a formal legal case is filed against them and they are expelled from the party. Officials are sometimes put under investigation but not formally charged. However once a party announcement about a probe is publicly announced they are almost always punished.

The Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. Calls to the Chongqing government information office also went unanswered.

It was not possible to reach Sun directly for comment, and unclear if he has been allowed to retain a lawyer. It is not clear if any limits have been put on Sun’s movements.

NEW PARTY BOSS

Hong Kong and Taiwan media as well as the Wall Street Journal have also reported Sun is being investigated.

Sun did not appear on Chongqing television’s Saturday evening broadcast when new party boss, Chen Miner, was introduced to city officials by Zhao Leji, head of the powerful organization department which oversees personnel decisions.

Zhao made the announcement about the probe at the Chongqing meeting, the first source added.

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