China closes net around former security chief

China has placed two high-ranking officials under investigation in moves that appear to close the net more tightly around the country’s powerful former security chief.

The detentions are the latest in a series that have targeted former colleagues of Zhou Yongkang, who ran China’s domestic security apparatus until 2012. The Communist party is widely believed to have already placed Mr Zhou under virtual house arrest but it has yet to announce any legal action against him.

As a member of the nine-person Politburo Standing Committee that ruled China, Mr Zhou, 71, is the most senior politician to be caught up in a corruption investigation in decades.

In a sign that the party could be tightening its grip around him, two more former allies have been detained, adding to a growing list already under investigation, according to reports.

Shen Dingcheng, Communist party secretary of PetroChina International, the state oil company, was detained before the Chinese new year last month, according to China Business Journal newspaper. Mr Shen had served as secretary to “a particular leader at China National Petroleum Corporation at some point between 1992 and 1997”, the newspaper reported.

It did not mention Mr Zhou by name but he was a top leader of CNPC during those years, building up a group of supporters that later came to be known as the country’s “petroleum faction”. Three other secretaries of Mr Zhou from his time with the national oil company have already been detained.

Separately, the New York Times reported that Liang Ke, director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security, was taken into custody last month by the party’s discipline inspection body. The newspaper said he had been detained because of suspected corruption but added that his links to Mr Zhou also were a factor.

“Liang Ke was detained because he is suspected of assisting Zhou Yongkang beyond approved means and channels,” a former security official was quoted as saying.

Mr Zhou retired in 2012 and was last seen in public at a China University of Petroleum alumni celebration in October.

He had been a close ally of Bo Xilai, the former leadership hopeful who in September received a life sentence for corruption.

China’s Communist party has long acknowledged corruption as an existential threat to its continued rule. Since Xi Jinping took power in late 2012, Beijing has launched investigations targeting some of the country’s most powerful officials and companies as well as waging a broader campaign to rein in lavish spending by officials.

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