China's minister of railways has been dismissed and is under investigation for corruption, according to the official Chinese news agency, in the highest-level graft probe in China in years.
"Liu Zhijun allegedly committed severe violations of discipline. At present, this is being investigated," the Xinhua news agency announced on Feb. 12. No details about the allegations were given.
Liu, 58, is the most senior official to come under a graft probe since 2006, when the party boss of the Chinese Communist Party Chen Liangyu was dismissed and later sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The announcement of Liu's case was also confirmed by the organization department of the party's central committee, which controls personnel assignments within the dominant party.
In 2006, the minister's brother, Liu Zhixiang, the deputy chief of the railway bureau in Wuhan city, was convicted of charges including embezzlement and taking bribes.
A Hubei Province court gave Liu Zhixiang a suspended death sentence for hiring people to kill a man who had revealed his corruption, according to reports.
Liu Zhijun headed China's powerful railway ministry since 2003, overseeing the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway and the country's expansion into high-speed rail systems.
He is under investigation by the party's discipline inspection commission, which can strip him of his party position, though not his job.
'Checks and balances'
According to the discipline commission, 146,517 officials in China were punished for disciplinary violations in 2010, with 5,098 of them at the county level or above.
Last month, President Hu Jintao said at a speech to the discipline commission that the corruption situation in the country is "grave and that more efforts must be made to investigate "graft in key industries and key posts."
An online poll of 850 users of China's popular website sina.com showed that 94 percent were not surprised by Liu's dismissal.
Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, said he was not surprised by the exposure of the case. He said that when someone becomes an important official, he becomes powerful and this may lead to "tragic" circumstances.
He said that institutional mechanisms are critical to fighting and preventing corruption.
Liu Nianchun, another U.S.-based China analyst, said that the root cause of corruption is a lack of checks and balances.
Shen Guangzu, head of the general administration of customs, has been assigned to replace Liu, Xinhua said.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.