- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

SHANGHAI — Shanghai’s top leader was dismissed yesterday for purported corruption, the highest-level official to be fired in more than a decade as President Hu Jintao consolidates his power.

Chen Liangyu was fired as Shanghai’s Communist Party secretary, kicked off the party’s powerful Politburo and is under investigation by its anti-graft watchdog, the official Xinhua news agency said. His dismissal “demonstrates the party’s determination to fight corruption,” Xinhua said.

The move ends a potential challenge to Mr. Hu, who has been targeting political opponents through an anti-corruption crackdown in the run-up to a key party congress next year. That meeting will reapportion jobs among the political elite, with Mr. Hu, who heads the party, expected to install favored leaders for his second five-year term.

As a senior member of the party’s so-called “Shanghai faction,” Mr. Chen, 59, was considered a protege of former President Jiang Zemin. Mr. Hu has been methodically shredding Mr. Jiang’s lingering authority.

“Sacking Chen shows that Jiang has no power to protect his proteges and is in no position to affect the choice of new leaders,” said Joseph Cheng, director of the Contemporary China Research Center at Hong Kong’s City University.

The investigation into Mr. Chen centers on the misuse of at least one-third of a $1.2 billion city pension fund for illicit investments in real estate and other infrastructure. Mr. Chen is accused of aiding illegal businesses, shielding corrupt colleagues and abusing his position to benefit family members, Xinhua said.

Mr. Chen’s removal is also likely to boost Mr. Hu’s popularity among the Chinese public, who have grown increasingly cynical and angry over pervasive official corruption.

“This is a very popular move,” said Li Datong, former editor of a weekly supplement in the party’s China Youth Daily newspaper. “This looks like Hu Jintao is getting ready to take some pretty major steps.”

Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng was appointed acting party chief, Xinhua said.

The last Politburo member to be purged for corruption was former Beijing party secretary Chen Xitong, who resigned in 1995 and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He was released quietly on medical parole this year after serving eight years of his sentence. Chen is a common family name in China, and the two men are not related.

The Shanghai party chief job is a traditional steppingstone to higher office, as well as one of the most powerful local government jobs in China.

Mr. Chen reportedly clashed with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao over Beijing’s efforts to cool economic growth, lobbying instead for ambitious infrastructure projects for China’s wealthiest and most populous city.

Xinhua said the Politburo met Sunday to discuss a preliminary report on the investigation into Mr. Chen presented by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

With his protector, Mr. Jiang, now fading into political obscurity, Mr. Chen faces a lengthy jail term or other harsh punishments.

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