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beijing: Chinese authorities have fired 10 officials caught in a sex and blackmail scandal in Chongqing, the former fiefdom of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai, state media reported.
Developers hired women for immoral acts, then secretly filmed and used the videos to extort construction deals from the officials in the south-western city. The state news agency Xinhua said police had now broken up the criminal ring responsible.
But questions remain about how and why the videos emerged and the links between the case and Wang Lijun, the former police chief who sparked the downfall of Bo, previously his patron. It is the latest in a series of scandals over corruption and other abuses of power under Bo and Wang’s watch to be aired in the Chinese media.
The Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported yesterday that Bo would go on trial in south-western Guiyang on Monday, but a Guiyang court official told Reuters: “The case has not yet even been put forward for prosecution”.
China’s foreign ministry refused to comment, as did one of Bo’s lawyers. The charismatic politician has been accused of taking huge bribes, of abusing power and of having major responsibility for his wife’s murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood.
The sex video case first hit the headlines in November, when a clip of a 54-year-old district party chief went viral. Lei Zhengfu was instantly and widely mocked and was fired within 63 hours of the video’s appearance. Now 10 of his colleagues in the city have been ousted, Xinhua said.
But the Oriental Morning Post reported that Chongqing police were aware of the scheme three years ago and placed one of the men under house arrest between 2009 and 2010 — under the watch of Wang. It said the then police chief, now serving 15 years for helping Bo’s wife Gu Kailai conceal Heywood’s murder, assigned the investigation to Guo Weiguo — another officer jailed for his role in the coverup.
The newspaper said the videos were held by police and only resurfaced when a citizen journalist, Zhu Ruifeng, uploaded the clip of Lei in November.
Zhu told the Post he got the video from the police investigation team. “It’s hard to see how it could be purely coincidental,” said Steve Tsang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Nottingham.
If the details of how the video emerged were correct, “the fall of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun seem to have something to do with it”.
Tsang said it could be that whistleblowers had wanted to hold the officials to account but had previously been unable to do so because they were protected, or that airing the wrongdoing was also a way of highlighting the problems in Chongqing under Bo, a highly divisive figure who was feared by many in the city and the party — but remains missed by others.
“The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive — it could be people knew there were problems, couldn’t do anything about it and now can. But it is also politically convenient to clean up after Bo Xilai, particularly in the runup to his trial,” he said.
“Having seen China’s new leader Xi Jinping saying he’s going to sort out abuses, what better time to make sure that what was done wrongly under the Bo Xilai regime is used as an example?”