Beijing security chief detained in China graft probe
A Communist Party corruption investigation focusing on the former head of China's domestic security apparatus has reached into the secretive realm of the intelligence services with the detention of a senior official, people close to party and military leaders said this week.
Liang Ke, the director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security, was taken into custody last month by the party's arm for investigating official misconduct, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, according to three people this week, who cited information from leaders notified of the decision.
They said the allegations against Mr. Liang involved corruption as well as his dealings with Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief who has been the main subject of the investigation.
Two people, a former security official and a policy adviser to party leaders, both speaking on the condition of anonymity, said senior officials had told them that Mr. Liang was suspected of aiding Mr. Zhou by illicitly passing on information gathered by the bureau's network of agents, phone taps and informants in the Chinese capital.
"The official message sent down was that Liang Ke was suspected of corruption," the former security official said. "But as well, Liang Ke was detained because he is suspected of assisting Zhou Yongkang beyond approved means and channels."
The investigations into Mr. Zhou's former subordinates and colleagues announced so far have been portrayed as part of President Xi Jinping's campaign against graft by the party elite. But the new details suggest that Mr. Xi is also worried that Mr. Zhou sought to turn sections of the domestic security apparatus, including state security officials, into tools for advancing his own interests, undermining the authority of the central leadership.
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On Friday, the Beijing government announced that Mr. Liang had been replaced, but did not say why. Questions about Mr. Liang sent by fax to the city's press office on Thursday were not answered.
A businessman whose investments bring him in contact with senior police and military officers said that they confirmed Mr. Liang's detention, which they said occurred by the first half of January. The businessman spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing, like the two other people who spoke, the risk of recrimination for discussing delicate political matters.
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The detention of Mr. Liang takes the investigation encircling Mr. Zhou into especially secretive terrain: The Ministry of State Security and its local bureaus are unaccountable even by China's standards and rarely discussed in public.
In addition to conducting espionage overseas, the service gathers intelligence on officials at home, monitors threats to party control, and keeps foreign diplomats and journalists under surveillance. State security officials' names and comments almost never appear in the media.
As the chief of the city-level state security office in the national capital, Mr. Liang was "no doubt a very, very powerful guy," said Christopher K. Johnson, a specialist on Chinese politics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who formerly worked as a senior China analyst at the C.I.A.
Mr. Liang's detention was first reported last month by Mingjing News, an overseas Chinese website specializing in news and speculation about party leaders.
Before retiring in November 2012, Mr. Zhou was one of nine men on the Politburo Standing Committee — the party's top decision-making body — and headed the committee that oversees China's courts, police and other arms of domestic security. In his five years in those two posts, he accumulated considerable clout as the party made maintaining social stability a top priority and devoted ever greater resources to the security forces under his control.
Political insiders have said senior officials were unsettled by Mr. Zhou's tenacious support for Bo Xilai, the former Politburo member who last September was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption and abuse of power.
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Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer in Beijing who has been openly critical of Mr. Zhou, said he had heard that Mr. Liang was "in trouble," and described the investigation as the latest step in Mr. Xi's efforts tostrengthen his control over an enclave of state power where Mr. Zhou had amassed outsize influence.
"Because the party stressed stability above all, and that became fundamental national policy, his power expanded to overshadow other Standing Committee members, and the police, courts, security authorities became his political resource," Mr. Pu said.
The government has not publicly announced any investigation into Mr. Zhou. But people close to senior officials have said that Mr. Xi and other leaders approved the inquiry late last year. If Mr. Zhou is tried and convicted of corruption, he would be the first former or sitting member of the Politburo Standing Committee to confront such a fate.
After Mr. Zhou stepped down in late 2012, party anticorruption officials began removing and investigating officials and company executives who had career links with him. They started in Sichuan Province, where Mr. Zhou was party secretary from 1999 to 2002. The authorities also detained executives, present and previous, of the China National Petroleum Corporation, or C.N.P.C., where Mr. Zhou had risen to become general manager in the 1990s.
In December, the party announced an investigation of a vice minister for public security, Li Dongsheng, who was appointed while Mr. Zhou was in power.
"I think Xi has been taking a very stepwise approach," Mr. Johnson, the analyst, said of the investigations. "He blew up Sichuan, he blew up C.N.P.C., and last December he shifted over into the Ministry of Public Security, and so these guys are the next logical target."
This week, authorities also announced that they were investigating Ji Wenlin, a vice governor of Hainan Province in southern China, who had served as an aide to Mr. Zhou for a decade, moving with him from the Ministry of Land and Resources to Sichuan Province and then to the Ministry of Public Security.
Mr. Xi appears determined to make a show of methodically dismantling Mr. Zhou's influence, said Wu Wei, a former official. He said he had heard rumors of Mr. Liang's detention.
"This amounts to pulling out a tiger's teeth so it turns into a sick cat," he said.
Mr. Liang was appointed director of state security for Beijing in 2008, after rising through the ranks of the city bureau, according to a government website. At the time, a report in the newspaper Beijing News said he was 42 and came from Jilin City in northeast China. Since then, few details about his activities have appeared.
The party investigation of Mr. Zhou, Mr. Liang and others under suspicion may not result in the police filing charges. The police usually take up a criminal investigation only after party disciplinary investigators have finished their inquiry and leaders have recommended such legal proceedings.
"I hope that Zhou Yongkang is publicly tried," Mr. Wu said. "But I have no confidence in that, because the case is so broad and would unleash such big shock waves."
Chris Buckley reported from Hong Kong, and Jonathan Ansfield from Beijing.
PHOTO: Zhou Yongkang has been the main subject of an investigation. (PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON LEE/REUTERS)
An inquiry examines a part of government most Chinese hear little about.