Power and fortune before dramatic fall

Ling Zhengce, the second eldest of the brothers, was detained in 2014.
Ling Zhengce, the second eldest of the brothers, was detained in 2014.

Before their downfall, the well-connected members of the Ling family wielded power in government and business circles.

Originally from Yuncheng in northern Shanxi province, the five siblings were named by their father after words that appeared frequently in the Communist Party newspapers he read: Fangzhen (guideline), Zhengce (policy), Luxian (roadmap); Jihua (plan) and Wancheng (completion).

The elder Ling hoped they would enter officialdom like him - he worked in the Ministry of Public Security - and two of them did.

Second son Zhengce, 63, is a former vice-chairman of the Political Consultative Conference in Shanxi, while third son Jihua, 59, rose through the Communist Party's Youth League to become the chief of the General Office of the Central Committee.

The Lings were instrumental in the rise of the Yuncheng clique of cadres from the city who came to dominate Shanxi politics.

Jihua, the top aide of former Chinese President Hu Jintao, had also been tipped for a place in the powerful Politburo - until a car accident in 2012 involving his son derailed everything. The crash killed Mr Ling Gu, who was found in his Ferrari with two semi-nude women. His father tried but failed to cover up the accident, leading angry Chinese netizens to question how an official's son could afford a US$800,000 (S$1.12 million) car.

The authorities acted quickly, demoting Jihua and opening investigations that would eventually implicate his family. Zhengce was detained in June 2014.

Billionaire youngest brother Wancheng, 56, who made his fortune as the chief of a Beijing-based investment company, was called in for investigation a few months later in October 2014. He would later flee to the US.

In December 2014, Jihua was officially put under investigation for corruption. He is still awaiting trial.

Oldest brother Fangzhen died years ago, but Chinese reports say his son and wife run a business empire involving public relations, exhibitions and conference services.

Sister Luxian, 61, is married to Shanxi official Wang Jiankang, who has also been investigated for corruption.

After the authorities opened investigations into Jihua, the party mouthpiece People's Daily called on cadres to "restore family ethics".

"This is the biggest message of Ling's case to all officials and the ruling party," the commentary said.

Teo Cheng Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'Power and fortune before dramatic fall'. Print Edition | Subscribe