Zhou Yongkang, China’s highly unpopular former head of domestic security has been the rumored target of a wide-ranging anti-corruption investigation almost since the day he retired in late 2012.
Now, the investigation may be finally drawing to a close, as suggested by reports that his brother and sister-in-law have been detained and specific allegations have been raised against his previously-detained son. When asked about Zhou, who also once ran the country’s oil industry and had a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, an official ominously replied recently that the government’s pledge to fight corruption did not consist of “empty words,” the first time a government official has addressed the rumors.
The government’s detentions and investigations of those closest to Zhou were part of a systematic process described by one former official as ”pulling out a tiger’s teeth so it turns into a sick cat.” Discussion of Zhou has been censored on Chinese websites for months; even knowing references to the noodle brand “Master Kang,” his nickname, have been deleted.
The inquiry picked up steam last year, with a focus on first on Zhou’s associates from the Sichuan Province, then the oil industry, then the security ministry. As Quartz reported in August, the detention and trial of Zhou himself, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, could be even more explosive than the high-profile trial of his onetime ally Bo Xilai.
It could also put the current members of the standing committee in a somewhat unusual position. Zhou and his family members are believed to have amassed billions of dollars in assets that are stored outside the country—but then so are president Xi Jinping’s family members and premier Wen Jiabao’s.
Zhou’s brother, Zhou Yuanqing and his brother’s wife Zhou Lingying were detained Dec. 1 by “discipline investigators from Beijing,” state-run media reported March 3. Zhou’s son, Zhou Bin, and the advantage he gained from his well-connected father, were the topic of Chinese media reports all last week—a sign that, as one journalist told the South China Morning Post, “The authorities want to use the media to crack the Zhou family’s case and build up the right media environment, just as they did before with Bo Xilai.”
The elder Zhou’s first wife died in a car crash. His second wife, Jia Xiaohua, a television presenter several decades younger than him, has so far not been detained; Zhou is reportedly under “virtual house arrest” while the investigation against him is completed, according to Reuters.