BEIJING (Reuters) - China is investigating one of its top spy chiefs for corruption, the ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog said on Friday, signaling that the boldest crackdown on corruption in decades has spilled over into its powerful intelligence apparatus.
Ma Jian, a vice minister at China’s Ministry of State Security, is the most senior security official to be investigated since former domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang was ensnared in a graft scandal last July.
The investigation into Ma could lead to a shake-up in China’s powerful state security ministry, a KGB-like operation that spies on its citizens and foreigners domestically and internationally.
Several of Ma’s men are also being questioned to assist with the investigation, a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters, without giving further details.
The ministry is one of the most opaque government agencies in China and does not have a public website or spokesperson.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said Ma was under investigation on “suspicion of serious violations of discipline and the law”. In China, “serious violations of discipline and law” usually means graft.
The CCDI did not give further details.
It is unclear what triggered the investigation of Ma, who is said to have headed China’s counter-espionage programs.
President Xi Jinping has vowed to target high-ranking “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in his anti-corruption drive, and has pledged to deepen the most sweeping campaign against graft in years.
Analysts have said Xi, who heads the National Security Commission, intends to overhaul the sprawling security apparatus, which consumed a budget that exceeded the official figure for military spending.
Ma was taken away from his office last week, a second source with ties to the leadership told Reuters.
Ma was director of the ministry’s “No.8 bureau”, which is responsible for counter-espionage activities on foreigners, mainly diplomats, businessmen and reporters, the source said. He has since been replaced by Qiu Jin, a vice minister of state security.
Ma worked at the spy agency for more than 30 years, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said, and was promoted to a deputy minister of counter-intelligence operations in 2006.
The paper said Ma was closely tied to Ling Jihua, a one-time senior aide to former President Hu Jintao who was put under investigation on graft charges last month.
“He’s a key person between the Zhou Yongkang and Ling Jihua cases,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator. “The Ministry of State Security makes up about half of the total domestic security apparatus, so it is really significant.”
The Post also said Ma’s case was tied to a corruption scandal at Founder Group, a technology firm owned by Peking University. Ma is believed to be close to the firm’s chief executive Li You, it said, citing unnamed sources.
An executive at Founder Group told Reuters she had no knowledge of the case.
In a separate announcement on Friday, the CCDI said Wei Junxing, vice secretary of the northeastern province of Liaoning, was also under investigation for seriously violating the law. It did not elaborate.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim and Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Jeremy Laurence