Jiang Jiemin, who oversees state-owned companies in a Chinese ministerial… (Bing Han / European Pressphoto…)
BEIJING — A powerful Chinese government official who oversees state-owned companies is the latest senior Communist Party official to come under investigation in what appears to be a concerted effort by President Xi Jinping to consolidate his power and push his economic agenda.
Jiang Jiemin, 58, is a former head of China National Petroleum Co. who in March became head of the Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, a ministerial level position. A brief report released Sunday to the state media said he was under investigation for "serious disciplinary violations," which is code for corruption.
Jiang's downfall is fascinating for those who follow the faction rifts in the Communist Party because he was known to be a protege of the powerful former security czar Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee in the last government. Zhou is reported to be under investigation as well, despite a tacit agreement in place since the 1980s that has given Standing Committee members immunity in corruption investigations.
Xi has tried to make a drive against corruption a theme of his new government, although so far he seems to be mostly pursuing vanquished rivals.
"This is a sign that Xi Jinping has the guns to go after a powerful politician. He must feel that he is a strong enough leader to do so," said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Lam also suggested a more sincere motive, that Xi wants to root out corruption in the state-owned enterprises as a precursor to economic reforms in the public sector.
"They know they need to have tighter controls on the huge conglomerates to push their economic agenda," he said.
State news reported last week that four other top executives of China National Petroleum Co. were under investigation for corruption.
China has been riveted in recent weeks by the lurid trial of Bo Xilai, a former Chongqing party secretary who was charged with corruption and abuse of power for allegedly covering up his wife's murder of an English business associate. Testimony in the trial — some of which was expunged from transcripts made public — suggested that Zhou might have been directing a coverup and supporting Bo in resisting orders from Beijing. If true, the charge would be tantamount to subversion of state power, one of the most serious crimes in China.
However, there appears to be an unusual combination of the political, economic and personal in the newest investigation, some of which involves a scandal over the late-night crash last year of a black Ferrari.
Reports circulating last year in the overseas Chinese news media said that Jiang, while still head of the petroleum company, had used state funds to pay off the families of two young women in the car, one killed, the other badly injured.
Also killed was the car's driver, the son of Ling Jihua, a senior official who had been a top aide to then-President Hu Jintao. The occupants of the car were all half-naked.
The investigation into Zhou was reported by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, an English-language paper with an editor believed to have close contacts with senior party leaders in Beijing.
The inquiries are being conducted by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, an extrajudicial party organization that investigates top officials
"It is very possible that they will do all this internally and that it will not go to a public court of law," said Lam, the political analyst.