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Top religious affairs official faces corruption probe

BEIJING (UCAN): Zhang Lebin, a deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs in Beijing, is facing investigation as part of the far-reaching anti-corruption drive of the president, Xi Jinping.

It is the first such case against a top party member from a bureau responsible for the management of religion in China.

A brief announcement on September 22 from the Communist Party Central Discipline Commission accuses Zhang of a serious violation of discipline. The announcement contained no further details, but simply used the party jargon for a corruption probe.

The announcement follows months of speculation in which there has been no mention of Zhang by the government or in state media. The Chinese political website, dwnews.com, reported on the same day that Zhang had been under investigation from the first half of the year.

Zhang was responsible for overseeing the Islamic and small minority faiths, although last year a series of department updates showed him at Buddhist events. This led to speculation that he may have switched roles.

In January, 32 officials were expelled for taking bribes to help Muslims jump queues to join the hajj to Mecca, the first reported cases against religious affairs officials since Xi began an internal crackdown on corruption after becoming president in March 2013.

Tens of thousands of party officials have been investigated over the past two and a half years.

Although the hajj case came under Zhang’s authority, the probe against him is instead thought to be related to Ling Jihua, the former head of the United Front Work Department, who was arrested on corruption charges in July.

Ling oversaw the religious affairs bureau as head of the United Front, the main body that oversees party relations with other organisations including religions.

He was also Zhang’s former boss at the Communist Youth League for eight years until the early 1990s. Ling later took up a senior position at the Communist Party General Office and Zhang started at the State Administration of Religious Affairs in 2003.

“It was Ling who recommended Zhang to the State Administration of Religious Affairs,” dwnews.com claims.

Zhang is one of a number of colleagues, friends and family of Ling facing a purge under Xi since he took over the presidency from Hu Jintao, under whom Ling served as an aide. 

 

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