04:06 - Source: CNN
Former Chinese presidential aide arrested

Story highlights

Ling Jihua accused of taking bribes, illegally obtaining state and party secrets

Ling was once a top aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao

Investigators have sent Ling's case to China's highest prosecution authority

Beijing CNN —  

Chinese authorities have arrested a former presidential aide in a corruption investigation after expelling him from the ruling Communist Party, the government announced Monday.

Ling Jihua, 58, who worked for former President Hu Jintao, stands accused of accepting huge bribes, stealing party and state secrets, as well as keeping mistresses and trading power for sex, according to a statement posted on the website of the party’s disciplinary arm.

From 2007 to 2012, Ling was the director of the Party’s Central Committee’s General Office under Hu – a position often compared to the White House chief of staff – making him an extremely powerful politician in China’s one party-dominated political system.

Ling is the latest of a string of former Communist leaders caught in the anti-corruption dragnet launched by Xi Jinping, the current president and head of the Communist Party, after he came to power in late 2012.

Xi has vowed to eradicate official corruption, long a lightning rod for the Chinese public’s discontent with the government.

Witch hunt?

With a stated goal of targeting both “tigers and flies” – high- and low-ranking officials – Xi’s massive campaign has led to thousands of arrests and convictions on graft charges, including the former domestic security czar and the military’s second-in-command.

“Xi needs to reassert central control over the party, which seems to have slipped under his predecessor Hu Jintao,” Andrew Wedeman, the director of China Studies Initiative at Georgia State University, told CNN.

“It isn’t a political witch hunt in the crude sense of that notion, but certainly it’s a highly political campaign.”

Throughout the Hu years, Ling was seen accompanying the Chinese president on trips home and abroad, and became known as one of his most trusted advisers.

’Ferrari crash’

Ling’s rising political fortune seemed to come to screeching halt, however, when his only son was reportedly killed in fiery car accident in Beijing in March 2012.

Juicy details on the “Ferrari crash” – including reports of two scantily dressed female passengers – as well as Ling’s attempt to cover it up were widely reported by overseas Chinese media.

He was demoted in the summer of 2012, shortly before Hu handed power over to Xi.

Last December, the party’s disciplinary arm announced a formal investigation into Ling over “serious violations of Party regulations,” and he was soon stripped of his official titles.

In addition to allegedly committing adultery, which is not a crime in China, party investigators also accused Ling of abusing his position to help his wife’s businesses.

Among his wife Gu Liping’s many reported enterprises is Youth Business China, a self-described “non-profit education project” aimed at helping startup companies and young entrepreneurs. Its website lists Gu as a founder and director-general.

Representatives of the group’s offices in Beijing and Chongqing told CNN on Tuesday that their operations had been suspended by Chinese authorities.

No one answered the phones during business hours at three other offices in cities located in Shanxi, Ling’s home province in northern China.

Author: In China, ‘everyone is guilty of corruption’

Secret trial?

China’s highest prosecution authority announced Monday that it is now conducting its own investigation into Ling after party investigators sent over his case.

Political analysts say, as allegations against him involve state secrets, Ling is likely to face trial behind closed doors.

This would shield embarrassing details of the party’s inner workings from the public view. Zhou Yongkang, the former domestic czar who faced similar charges, was tried in secret in May and sentenced to life in prison in June.

“No exception should be allowed in graft crackdown,” reads a commentary on Ling’s case published in Tuesday’s People’s Daily, the party’s official newspaper.

“Party rules and discipline are not only the firewall in the anti-corruption campaign, but also the party’s lifeline.”

Wedeman from Georgia State University said that Xi’s campaign had discernibly changed the atmosphere for China’s ruling elite.

“It’s hard to say what the long-term impact is,” he said.

“In the short term, we have a sense that people are scared to death – and they don’t want to get involved in things they think they might get caught for.”

From apex of power to caged tiger

CNN’s Ivan Watson and Serena Dong in Beijing contributed to this report