Tycoon Held over Chongqing Info

Authorities detain a businessman who says he has information on political intrigues in the western Chinese city.

Former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun attends a meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 6, 2011.

Amid widespread public speculation over the power struggles behind the orderly scenes at China's national parliamentary meeting this week,  police detained a top Chongqing businessman in a bid to keep troublesome rumors about the city's leadership under wraps, his lawyer said Thursday.

Property tycoon Zhang Mingyu was detained Wednesday at his Beijing apartment after posting on his microblog that he had information about former Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun, who sparked a national scandal last month when he was rumored to have sought asylum at a U.S consulate.

Wang is famed as one of China's top graft-busters after leading a crackdown that led to scores of senior officials being jailed in the southwestern city of 30 million people.

Meanwhile, Wang's boss, Chongqing mayor Bo Xilai, who is trying to join China's top decision-making body, was the only one of the 25-member ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo not present at Thursday’s National People's Congress (NPC) session, sparking further speculation that the ongoing controversies emanating from Chongqing may have blighted his political career.

Chongqing intrigue

Zhang's lawyer said Chongqing police had taken the businessman from his Beijing apartment on Wednesday after he threatened to expose information that Wang had prevented him from bringing forward corruption allegations against another Chongqing tycoon.

"[Zhang Mingyu] is being held in his apartment at the Asian Games village by a deputy Chongqing police chief surnamed Tang and three plainclothes police officers," Beijing-based lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said after speaking with Zhang on Wednesday.

"They burst in through the door after getting the concierge to knock on the door for them, and then they took him away to another apartment they had nearby."

"He told me that...they had undergone no formal procedures in all their dealings with him since he reported the dealings of  Weng Zhenjie two years ago."

"Now, they want to prevent him from publishing what he knows about [Chongqing tycoon] Weng Zhenjie and Wang Lijun on microblog sites, so as to avoid blackening Chongqing's name."

Pu told AFP on Thursday that his client had recorded conversations with Wang, in which the policeman warned him against going public with corruption allegations against Weng, who is also the head of several financial institutions in Chongqing.

Zhang has reportedly accused Weng of illegally seizing assets in his real estate company and having links to criminal gangs in Chongqing.

Pu  said police planned to take Zhang back to Chongqing with them on Thursday.

'Sensitive time'

Wang, vice mayor and former police chief of Chongqing, became known as one of China's top graft-busters after leading a crackdown that led to scores of senior officials being jailed in the southwestern city of 30 million people.

Since his visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, Wang has been on officially designated leave for "vacation-style treatment," and has been helping discipline inspection officials of China's ruling Communist Party with their inquiries.

Repeated calls to Zhang's cell phone on Wednesday resulted in a recorded message saying the phone was switched off.

Pu said the Chongqing police were effectively limiting Zhang's freedom, in contravention of China's criminal code.

"We can say that Chongqing is going through a very sensitive time at the moment because of Wang Lijun, because of the 'fight corruption, sing red songs' campaign, and because of the upcoming 18th Party congress," Pu said.

He said Zhang was currently holding a recording of a conversation with Wang Lijun in which Wang threatened him. "These things are probably hidden somewhere," Pu said.

"The Wang Lijun incident and the detention of Zhang Mingyu aren't separate incidents."

"They are about stuff that Chongqing wants kept secret...because the Wang Lijun incident damaged the image of Chongqing and they don't want it made a public talking point," Pu said.

But he added: "There has been no respect for the people's right to know anything so far."

A report in the Hong Kong English-language South China Morning Post newspaper quoted President Hu Jintao as saying on Tuesday that Wang was "a reactionary against the Party and the state."

Behind closed doors

Yang Lili of the U.S.-based China Information Center said that the cases of Wang and Zhang and the potentially incriminating evidence they might hold about Chongqing's most wealthy and powerful had prompted a political chain reaction behind the scenes at the NPC.

She said some of the most outspoken critics of the anti-graft "red songs" campaign had been powerful Chongqing businessmen. "If they are now standing up to point out some of the stuff that's going on behind the scenes in Chongqing, then that will pose a real threat to the Communist Party's grip on power," Yang said.

"There was already a fierce power struggle going on between them anyway, but previously, it had taken place behind closed doors."

Yang said Wang Lijun's visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, which sparked rumors he was trying to defect, had laid bare this internal power struggle for all to see, and even internationalized it.

"Now, they are basically totally focused on maintaining stability," she said.

A photograph of Bo Xilai stepping aside at the NPC to make way for Deng Pufang, the son of late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping who was crippled during a "revolutionary" attack in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), has been making the rounds on Chinese microblogs this week.

Netizens interpreted the body language of the two men and its historical context to show that Bo's use of "red" rhetoric from China's turbulent past might backfire on him in Beijing's corridors of power.

Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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