China ex-presidential aide Ling charged

Charles Clover
China's new President Xi Jinping (R) talks with former President Hu Jintao (L) on March 14, 2013 in Beijing, China.
Feng Li | Getty Images

A top aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao has been arrested and stripped of his Communist party membership — the latest target of Beijing's anti-corruption purge.

Ling Jihua, who was placed under investigation in December, has been accused of a broad range of crimes, including bribery and "trading his power for sex", according to the Central Committee of the Communist party.

Mr Ling came to symbolize the excesses of the Communist party elite, which Beijing seems to fear might eventually undermine the legitimacy of the entire governing system if left unchecked.

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He came under scrutiny two years ago, following the death of his son at the wheel of a Ferrari sports car in a crash that also injured two semi-clad female passengers, one of whom later died.

The incident, which was initially hushed up by the Communist party, became a social media sensation amid the attempted cover up and is thought to have been one of the main inspirations for President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption probe, which started later that year.

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Mr Ling joins a growing list of high-ranking figures targeted for corruption probes since late 2012, including General Xu Caihou, who once oversaw promotions in the Peoples' Liberation Army, and Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the domestic security service.

Overall more than 250,000 Communist party officials have been punished amid a widening purge of top officials with the goal of both buttressing the party's tarnished public image, but also, many suspect, eliminating political rivals of Mr Xi, who has pledged to go after both "tigers and flies", a reference to corrupt officials at all levels.

Mr Xu, Mr Zhou and Mr Ling have been close to previous leaders or contenders for political leadership within the party. Mr Ling was effectively the chief of staff for President Hu and one of the most powerful figures behind the scenes in official Beijing.

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So far Mr Ling's downfall has happened according to what by now has become the standard template used to purge high ranking officials: in December, the party announced an investigation, followed this week by arrest and expulsion from the party. Accordingly, the case is likely to be tried in a party court where he is likely to be found guilty and the sentence, usually a prison term, will be handed down.

In an unusually detailed and lurid denunciation, the Central Committee said that Mr Ling "took advantage of his posts to seek profit for others and accepted huge bribes personally". It also alleged that he "obtained a great deal of the party and state's core secrets in violation of laws and discipline" and "committed adultery with a number of women and traded his power for sex".

The People's Daily, the Communist party's mouthpiece, said on Tuesday that Mr Ling's arrest was aimed at "eliminating hidden problems inside the party, maintaining strict party discipline and purifying party organisations".

"Party rules and discipline are not only the firewall in anti-corruption campaign, but also the party's lifeline," the paper said.