A former top general in China has been expelled from the ruling Communist Party to face bribery charges, becoming the most senior figure ensnared in an anti-corruption crackdown.
A Cabinet statement said investigators found Xu Caihou and his relatives accepted money and property in exchange for promotions and other favours.
Mr Xu was a member of the ruling party’s Politburo and vice chairman of its Central Military Commission, which commands China’s military.
A series of Chinese officials have been detained in the campaign launched by President Xi Jinping.
He has vowed to punish all corrupt officials, no matter how highly ranking. Political analysts suggest the ultimate goal is a retired senior leader, Zhou Yongkang.
The announcement follows months of rumours that the 71-year-old had been detained after being taken from his sickbed at a Beijing military hospital in March. His wife, daughter and a secretary were also reported to have been detained.
Three other senior officials, including former deputy police minister Li Dongsheng, were also expelled from the party to face corruption charges.
The party announced in December that Mr Li was under investigation. The statement said investigators found he took bribes and sold influence.
Jiang Jiemin, former head of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which overseas China’s major government-owned companies, is accused of abusing his position and receiving a “huge amount of bribes”, the statement said.
Also expelled was Wang Yongchun, former deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corporation. A government statement said the party concluded he “took advantage of his posts to seek benefits for others and received a huge amount of bribes”.
Mr Xi, who took power in 2012, has vowed to root out corruption that has fuelled public anger and that he has warned could threaten the party’s grip on power.
But the campaign also appears to be aimed at neutralising a retired senior leader, Mr Zhou, a former member of the party’s ruling Standing Committee. He stepped down in 2012 in a transfer of power to younger leaders.
The latest people expelled from the party were close to Mr Zhou, suggesting Mr Xi is on the verge of trying to have him expelled from the party, said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Mr Zhou is rumoured to have been detained but there has been no official confirmation of that.
Mr Lam said: “Zhou Yongkang was a bitter enemy of Xi Jinping. He was opposed to Xi Jinping becoming general secretary. This is also a personal vendetta. A power struggle. Xi Jinping has very shortly used the anti-corruption campaign to bring down his political enemies.”
Mr Xu’s case marks the first time since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution that such a senior Chinese general has been detained, according to the expert.
He was the most senior uniformed officer and ranked behind only then-president Hu Jintao, who was the commission chairman, in the military hierarchy.
China’s military is a wing of the Communist Party and its leaders are politically influential, making any move to detain a general a risky act.
The president would have had to win support from Mr Hu and former leader Jiang Zemin to pursue Mr Xu, said Mr Lam.
He said Mr Jiang initially resisted but agreed “for the sake of a healthy party they had to get rid of this cancerous cell”.
“Xu went overboard in terms of his greed and the vast amount of money he has collected,” he said.
“Anyone, no matter what authority and office he holds, will receive serious punishment if violating Party disciplines and laws,” said the party statement, quoted by Xinhua news agency. “We will never compromise nor show mercy.”
The downfall of an officer as senior as Mr Xu “shows there might be larger manoeuvres from the leaders,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian and political analyst in Beijing. “More people from the military will be dealt with in the name of anti-corruption.”