China graft investigation into ex-head of quake city

BEIJING (AFP) - The former chief of a Chinese city hit by a devastating earthquake is under investigation for "serious discipline violations", officials said on Wednesday, amid accusations that he used the disaster to defraud the government.

Xu Mengjia was removed last month as the top party official of Yan'an in the southwest, which was hit by a 6.6-magnitude earthquake in April that killed 196 people and injured more than 10,000.

The probe was announced on the website of the ruling Communist party's top disciplinary inspection body, which said he was "suspected of serious discipline violations" - a commonly used euphemism for corruption.

Following the earthquake, allegations emerged online that Xu exaggerated the disaster to cheat the central government of relief funds, and that he had illegally sold state-owned land.

The state-run Beijing Youth Daily reported on Wednesday that the former chief had a passion for table tennis and once promoted a female training partner who worked at a local blood donation centre to a post as a senior county-level official.

"The woman not only played table tennis well, she was also favoured very much by Xu," the report quoted unnamed sources as saying.

Xu had a private table tennis suite in the city's public gymnasium, including a training machine, a bathroom and a rest room, it said, adding that he kept four government cars including a military-plated SUV.

Xu is the latest official to fall in a widely publicised clampdown on government corruption unveiled over the past year by China's President Xi Jinping.

A smattering of senior government figures and a series of low-ranking officials have since come under investigation.

But no system-wide reforms have been introduced, and activists calling for officials to disclose their assets have faced detention - fuelling speculation the drive is more of a political campaign than a genuine clean-up.