Chinese crackdown on corruption nets chief

A PROMISE by China's new leaders to tackle corruption has claimed its first major scalp, the deputy Communist Party chief of Sichuan.

A PROMISE by China's new leaders to tackle corruption has claimed its first major scalp, the deputy Communist Party chief of Sichuan.

Li Chuncheng, 56, has been put under investigation and has not been seen in public since November 19, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

Mr Li was the second most senior official in the central Chinese province of 80 million people and was promoted last month to be one of the 171 alternate members of the Central Committee, one of the highest organs in the party.

It is not clear what crime he may have committed, but his detention follows the arrest in August of Dai Xiaoming, the chairman of the Chengdu Industry Investment Group, on suspicion of bribing government officials in Chengdu, where Mr Li was once party chief. Mr Dai and Mr Li were both involved in a controversial project by Sinopec, the Chinese oil company, to build a $A10.7 billion petrochemical plant on the outskirts of Chengdu.

Another Chinese leader, Zhou Yongkang, was involved in the project during his time as Sichuan party secretary. Ai Nanshan, a former professor at Sichuan University who campaigned against the plant, said: "Other government officials in Chengdu did not agree with it, but they were gagged and public complaints were suppressed. The local newspapers did not even dare to report that it had gone into operation this year."

Mr Zhou's ties to Mr Li raise the possibility that the anti-corruption drive may be part of a new factional battle. He was a supporter of disgraced former politburo member Bo Xilai.

Mr Li's career has been under a cloud since the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. At the time, he was the party chief of Chengdu and had spent $A169 million on a lavish new government offices. He incurred the wrath of then premier Wen Jiabao by moving into the offices soon after the earthquake and was forced to move out.

China's leadership is still reeling from a series of corruption scandals this year, starting with the case of Bo Xilai. Reports by Bloomberg and The New York Times have revealed the vast wealth accrued by the families of top leaders - including party general secretary Xi Jinping and Mr Wen - leading internet censors to block both organisations' websites.

Analysts say that uncommonly strong anti-corruption language in Mr Xi's speeches, coupled with the appointment of no-nonsense financial expert Wang Qishan as head of the country's anti-corruption commission, signal a tough stand on abuses of official power.

Aggrieved Chinese citizens are increasingly turning to popular microblogging websites to expose corrupt officials. Chongqing official Lei Zhengfu was sacked last week after a 12-second, five-year-old tape showing him having sex with a teenage woman went viral on the microblogging website Sina Weibo.

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