Top Chinese spymaster probed for corruption

BEIJING (AFP) - China's ruling Communist party has put the deputy chief of the country's top intelligence agency under investigation, it said Friday, the latest high-ranking figure probed in a much-publicised corruption crackdown.

Ma Jian, a deputy head of China's ministry of state security, is suspected of "serious disciplinary violation" - generally a euphemism for graft - the party's internal watchdog said on its website.

The shady ministry is said to be responsible for intelligence gathering overseas and surveillance against Chinese dissidents. It is a vast organisation but does not have a website or public address.

The announcement follows investigations into other figures in China's security apparatus, most notably Zhou Yongkang, who was responsible for the security ministry as a member of the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee until his retirement in 2012.

Dozens of Zhou's associates and family members, including many from the police and security services, have been detained in the past year, according to Chinese reports.

State media reported Thursday that Zhou had formed a clique with Bo Xilai, a former rising star in the party who fell victim to a murder and graft investigation and was jailed in 2013.

China's President Xi Jinping has vowed to target both high-level "tigers" as well as low-level "flies" in a campaign against endemic graft that he says is a threat to the future of the party.

A party investigation usually precedes a criminal prosecution, followed by a trial and possibly a jail sentence.

But critics say China has failed to implement institutional safeguards against graft, such as public asset disclosure, an independent judiciary, and free media, leaving anti-corruption campaigns subject to the influence of politics.

The ministry of state security is often described as China's equivalent of the Soviet Union's much-feared KGB.

Li Fengzhi, a former operative in the ministry who defected to the US, told reporters in 2009 that he had grown "furious" that his job entailed spying on dissidents, spiritual groups and aggrieved poor people.