BEIJING—In a major political tremor within China's ruling Communist Party, Shanghai's top party boss has been sacked on corruption charges stemming from a pension fund scandal.
The ouster of Chen Liangyu undercut a once-powerful faction based in Shanghai that has hindered President Hu Jintao from gaining firmer control of the party.
Chen, a 59-year-old former mayor of Shanghai, is the most senior party official in more than a decade to be removed for corruption. Before his suspension at a meeting on Sunday, Chen was one of 24 members of the party's politburo, the apex of the world's largest political party.
In extensive reporting on the case once it broke Monday afternoon, state media listed a blistering array of charges against Chen, linking him to allegations that one-third of Shanghai's $1.25 billion pension fund had been lost to graft or bungled real estate deals.
Allegations against him, according to a disciplinary report cited by the state Xinhua news agency, include assisting "illegal business people," covering up for corrupt staff, and "furthering the interests of family members."
"This event is a political earthquake in China," said Yang Hongshan, a professor at the school of government at People's University of Beijing. "Sacking of such a high-level official is rare. It demonstrates that the party central committee is determined to fight corruption. It is said that Shanghai ... covered the problem up whenever an official was suspected of corruption."
Chen, an English-speaker who once studied at Birmingham University in England, is a key figure in the extraordinary development of Shanghai into one of Asia's most glistening cities, rising to challenge Hong Kong as a financial capital.
Under Chen's watch, Shanghai won rights to host the 2010 World Expo, finished a high-speed magnetic levitation train, and began construction of what will be the world's second tallest building at 101 stories.
Shanghai's leaders have largely remained untouched by corruption scandals.
"Shanghai has accumulated many problems in its recent development. It has created bubbles and hidden dangers, which were covered up by the government," said Yang Fengchun, a professor of government at Peking University.
Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng replaced Chen as acting party chief. Chen is under administrative party detention, but is not under police arrest.
Corruption charges in China are often employed to dislodge political rivals.
By taking down the Shanghai party chief, President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao dealt a blow to the entire power base in Shanghai that helped propel the career of former President Jiang Zemin, China's paramount leader from 1997 until 2003. Jiang retains no formal party post but seeks to influence next year's 17th party congress, which will pick a successor to Hu.
The Shanghai pension scandal burst into the headlines in early August, when state media reported that the head of the city's social security bureau was fired for embezzling as much as $400 million. Beijing later sent some 100 auditors to Shanghai to probe the pension fund.
While corruption probes have touched a few fairly senior party and military officials in recent months, including Beijing Vice Mayor Liu Zhihua, it's rare for top politburo members to finger one another in corruption probes, because they're wary that such inquiries could snowball.
In a statement, the central committee warned the nation's 66 million party members to "guard against temptations of power, money and sex, and to persist in stringent self-discipline," Xinhua said.
(Special correspondent Fan Linjun contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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