World

Politburo member under investigation

Chongqing party chief, once seen as possible future Chinese premier, replaced

BEIJING 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 where President Xi Jinping will cement his grip on power.

Mr Sun Zhengcai was party chief of the south-western megalopolis of Chongqing until an abrupt announcement on Saturday morning that he no longer has the position and has been replaced by a rising political star close to Mr Xi.

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

A source who has been briefed on the matter said Mr 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 is a "conversation investigation", meaning it is not yet a formal probe.

A second source with ties to the leadership told Reuters that Mr Sun is undergoing investigation for suspected "violation of political discipline".

"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 case is filed against them and they are expelled from the party.

They 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 yesterday to a request for comment.

UNCLEAR

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

Mr Sun did not appear on Chongqing television's Saturday evening broadcast when new party boss Chen Min-er was introduced to city officials.

When Beijing's new party boss Cai Qi was unveiled in May, Mr Cai's predecessor Guo Jinlong was also present at the meeting and he gave a speech, according to the Beijing city government.

A third source with ties to the leadership emphasised how unusual it was that Mr Sun was not present or mentioned in the meeting where Mr Chen was presented as new leader.

Chongqing is perhaps best known for its association with its disgraced former party boss Bo Xilai, once himself a contender for top leadership before being jailed for life in 2013 in a dramatic corruption scandal.

Mr Sun was seen as a potential candidate for elevation at the congress and as a possible future premier, but his star has waned.

Sources and foreign diplomats say Mr Sun has been out of favour after the party's anti-corruption watchdog in February criticised Chongqing authorities for not doing enough to root out Bo's influence.

Diplomatic sources say Sun had been scheduled to go on a trip to Europe recently but it had been cancelled. Such trips are often used by senior officials to raise their international profiles ahead of promotions.- REUTERS

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