China investigates top provincial official for corruption

Li Chuncheng is the highest ranking official to be investigated since Xi Jinping became leader of China's Communist Party.

BEIJING - China's Communist Party has begun a corruption inquiry into a top official in the southwestern province of Sichuan, state media reported on Wednesday, the most senior person to be investigated since Xi Jinping became the party's leader.

Sichuan's deputy party boss, Li Chuncheng, was being investigated by the party's discipline watchdog, according to several reports, including one from the official Xinhua news agency, citing the Youth Daily's online edition.

Sichuan party authorities announced the investigation on Monday and Li did not appear as scheduled at a propaganda meeting on Tuesday, the media said.

However, by early afternoon the Youth Daily and Xinhua websites had deleted their reports on Li without explanation. Calls to the Sichuan government seeking comment went unanswered.

New party chief Xi warned last month at one of his first major meetings since taking on new role that if corruption was allowed to run wild, then the Communist Party risked major unrest and the collapse of its rule.

Xi, who will assume the presidency at an annual meeting of parliament in March, has appointed Wang Qishan, a man know as "the chief firefighter" for his ability to deal with crises, as his top graft fighter.

Preparations for November's party congress, at which a new generation of leaders, including Xi, was unveiled, were overshadowed by a scandal involving former political heavyweight Bo Xilai, once a contender for top leadership.

Bo was expelled from the party this year and faces possible charges of corruption and abuse of power, while his wife was jailed for murdering a British businessman.

Li had served in Sichuan since 1998 and had been party chief of its prosperous provincial capital, Chengdu. He was only appointed the province's deputy party boss in September of last year.

Li was also elected onto the party's Central Committee, a ruling council with about 200 full members and 170 or so alternate members, at last month's congress as an alternate member.