A former Beijing vice mayor is the first powerful Chinese official to be purged and placed under investigation in the new year.
Chen Gang, currently Party secretary of the China Association for Science and Technology, a state-affiliated trade organization for scientists and engineers, is under investigation for “violating Party discipline and laws,” the National Supervisory Commission—China’s newly created anti-corruption authority—announced on its website on Jan. 6.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping initiated an anti-corruption campaign in 2012, which was aimed at ridding the Chinese Communist Party of misbehaving officials and political enemies. It appears to have lost little momentum leading into 2019.
Chen was once a high official in charge of urban planning in the country’s capital, tasked with mapping out a commercial business district and facilities for the 2008 Olympics.
He became vice mayor in 2006 and continued to serve in senior roles in the Beijing government. In 2012, he was appointed as an alternate member to the 18th National Congress Central Committee, a once-in-five-years political conclave for the Party elite.
But signs of trouble emerged in 2017, when he was transferred out of Beijing to become the deputy director of the South-North Water Transfer Project, an infrastructure mega-project to divert fresh water to the north. The post isn’t considered as prestigious, given that Beijing is the seat of the Party’s power.
Chinese authorities didn’t elaborate on his alleged crimes.
But a Jan. 7 report in the Chinese business magazine Caixin—which has since been deleted from the internet—claimed that Chen had business dealings with the exiled business tycoon Guo Wengui. Chen allegedly had used his power to grant government approval to Guo, a real estate developer, for property developments in Beijing, the Caixin article reported.
Guo is wanted in China on allegations of corruption as well. Since taking refuge in New York City, Guo has made explosive claims about senior Party leadership on social media.
Ma Jian, a former vice minister of China’s spy agency who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption, was another ally of Guo’s. The court said that Ma used his position in power to help Guo’s companies prosper.
Ma, in a confession video, said he had approached Chen in 2008 to help Guo secure a project.
Since at least 2012, anonymous sources have either written online accounts or spoken to Hong Kong media about Chen’s alleged misdeeds, usually involving accepting bribes in return for approving development projects and contractors.
Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has ensnared thousands of “tigers and flies”—Party jargon for high- and low-ranking officials, respectively—who are typically charged with graft and embezzlement. Many of them are members of the Jiang faction, a political opposition network that rose to power during the tenure of former Party leader Jiang Zemin.
Top “tigers” have been punished in 31 of China’s 33 provinces.
Ling Yun contributed to this report.