Chinese Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun (劉志軍), has been removed from the top post in the ministry because he is being investigated for corruption, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday. Liu is the most senior Chinese official to come under such investigation in years.
The inquiry raises questions about China’s deep investment in high-speed railways, a vast nationwide initiative that has been a favorite project of Liu, who has spent his entire career in the ministry.
Liu, 58, is being investigated for “severe violation of discipline,” according to the Xinhua report, which cited the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) discipline watchdog. The report did not give details on the exact infractions.
Before Liu, perhaps the most prominent official to be felled on corruption charges was Chen Liangyu (陳良宇), the party boss of Shanghai and an ally of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民); Chen was dismissed from his Shanghai post in 2006 and sentenced in 2008 to 18 years in prison.
Liu’s family has been dogged by charges of abuse of power. In April 2006, Liu’s younger brother, Liu Zhixiang (劉志祥), was given a suspended death sentence by a court in Hubei Province for hiring people to kill a man who had revealed that he was a corrupt official. The brother, who was the head of the railways bureau in Wuhan, was also convicted of taking bribes and embezzling public funds and property worth more than US$5 million over a nine-year period.
The elder Liu had been in his job since 2003. He has been removed from the post of party chief, the most senior position in the ministry, and temporarily replaced with Sheng Guangzu (盛光祖), 62, head of the general administration of customs, Xinhua reported.
According to an official biography, Liu Zhijun was born in Hubei Province in 1953 and joined the CCP at age 20. He graduated from the Party School in 1998 after majoring in Marxist philosophy. He served separate stints as director of the railway bureaus in Henan and Liaoning provinces before moving into the central railway bureaucracy in Beijing.
A total of 146,517 officials were punished for disciplinary violations in 2010, Xinhua reported. Of those, 5,098 were officials at the county level or above, and 804 of them were prosecuted.
Liu personally championed the explosion in high-speed rail construction.
In September 2009, Zhang Shuguang (張曙光), the deputy chief engineer of the railway ministry, said in a speech that the government planned 42 lines by 2012, with 8,047km of track for passenger trains that travel 346kph and 4,828km of track for passenger and fast freight trains traveling at 249kph.
However, with the slowdown of the stimulus money that the government announced in 2008 to combat the effects of the global financial crisis, some high-speed lines might not be finished until 2013 or 2014, transportation experts say.