Officials who had worked for Bo Xilai before he was sacked as chief of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in southwestern China's Chongqing now fear retribution as sources say his fall from power has more to do with power struggles than corruption.
According to a former Chongqing official, authorities in the city are now busy reassigning large numbers of Party cadres who were brought in from elsewhere in China by Bo and his police chief Wang Lijun during Bo's tenure in the city, which ended on March 15.
"There will now be a period of readjustment," said the former official, quoting former colleagues still inside the Chongqing government.
Bo, once seen as a strong contender for a top job in China's upcoming leadership transition, was suspended from the highest echelons of the Party on April 10, after Wang, his former right-hand man, was taken into custody by Party investigators in February.
Wang is believed to have exposed incriminating evidence against Bo.
"The people who were brought in by Wang Lijun are going to be ... extremely nervous," the former official said. "They are the people who were posted to Chongqing from elsewhere in China."
Meanwhile, a source in Beijing close to Bo's family said that official pronouncements in recent days, which say he is being investigated for "serious violations" of Party discipline and that his wife Gu Kailai is a suspect in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, have little to do with the real power struggle that is going on behind the scenes in Beijing.
"[They] put out the announcement in the dead of night," he said, referring to the announcement last week that Bo, who was once seen as a contender for a seat on the powerful nine-member Politburo standing committee, had been suspended from high-ranking Party posts.
"What they are putting out isn't the same as the internal struggles that are going on," he said. "Bo is being used as someone's fall guy ... a scapegoat."
"I don't believe the message they are putting out there; this is definitely about behind-the-scenes infighting," the source said.
He said that Gu's activities were not particularly scurrilous compared with the relatives of China's highest-ranking Party officials.
"Can other people say that their wives are squeaky clean?" he said. "Of course they have the same issues that she does; they just haven't gotten caught."
Opportunity for reform
A veteran journalist surnamed Xiao agreed, saying that Bo, as the son of veteran revolutionary Bo Yibo, had grown up alongside all the other Communist Party "princelings."
He said the power struggles were linked to the Party's inability, in spite of repeated exhortations by outgoing premier Wen Jiabao, to push ahead with political reform.
"Let's see whether they announce political reforms," he said. "If they don't, then we'll know that it's all simply a power struggle. They arrest someone, they lock someone up, but it's not much more meaningful than that."
"It would be better if the Party would use this as an opportunity to push through political reform, but so far there's no indication that this will happen."
Bo has already been targeted by commentaries in China's state media, prompting statements in support of the decision by central government to remove him from office from many areas of the Party, including the People's Liberation Army and the Chongqing municipal government.
The scandal surrounding Bo's high-profile crime campaigns and his wife's link to the murder continues to widen, according to Chinese political sources, though official media have so far made no mention of judicial procedures against Bo.
Political sources say that his fall from power will have far wider implications for Chinese politics than the sacking and subsequent jailing of former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong in 1995 and former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu in 2006.
Wang's Feb. 6 flight to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, during which he revealed evidence incriminating Bo and his family, is believed to have been sparked by a meeting between the two men, according to documents leaked online, purportedly from high-level Party meetings.
A Beijing-based official familiar with Bo's investigation said he expects some kind of public confirmation of Bo's fate ahead of a crucial leadership meeting later in the year, where the administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao is set to hand over the reins of power to the next generation of Chinese leaders.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.