Reuters leaked news on Sunday that authorities have seized assets worth as much as A$15.7 billion from family members and associates of Zhou Yongkang (pictured), a former member of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee and domestic security chief.
Zhou was last spotted in public in October, and is believed to be under house arrest in Beijing as the investigation against him proceeds. He is by far the highest profile target of Chinese President Xi Jinping's 'tigers' and 'flies' anti-corruption campaign, which kicked off in late 2012.
Going after Zhou is risky: Standing Committee members, current and former, have long been regarded as immune from prosecution. Xi risks antagonising other party heavyweights, who fear their heads could be next on the chopping block. if Zhou manages to evade charges, Xi's power to consolidate the various factions within the Party and push through reform will take a big hit.
Sunday's news suggests the net is tightening around Zhou. Referencing three well-connected sources, Reuters writes that '300 of Zhou's relatives, political allies, proteges and staff have also been taken into custody or questioned in the past four months.' Assets of those close to Zhou that have been frozen include bank account deposits worth 37 billion yuan, domestic and overseas bonds and stocks totaling 51 billion yuan, 300 apartments and villas, 60 vehicles, and art and antiques worth 1 billion yuan. Most of the assets were not in Zhou's name, according to the sources.
It has long been expected that Xi's anti-corruption drive would quieten down with the fall of Zhou. While it's unlikely that another 'tiger' of Zhou's pedigree will be targeted, news from Beijing in March suggests the campaign has been reinvigorated. In a state-media announcement mid-month, 'vanguard teams' are to expand the geographic scope of inspections, broaden inspections to examine other forms of corruption and use a wider range of investigation methods.
Particular targets in a 'third round' of inspections include the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Fudan University in Shanghai and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFO).
In publicising a new round of inspections in advance, Wang Qishan, the Party's anti-corruption attack dog, hopes to use 'shock and awe' to shake those who feel they are politically secure from investigation, rebuff the assumption that the anti-graft drive is winding down, and boost public support for the crusade.
Elsewhere, big heads continue to roll. Last week the People's Daily reported Yao Mugen, deputy governor of Jiangxi Province, was under investigation 'for serious breaches of principle and legal violations' — in other words, corruption. Yao is the fifth high-ranking provincial official since mid-February to be announced as under investigation.
Originally published by The Lowy Institute publication The Interpreter. Republished with permission.