BEIJING, Sept 4 – China’s leadership has been hit by a fresh scandal ahead of a 10-yearly power handover, with reports a close ally of the president was demoted following his son’s death in a Ferrari crash.
China said at the weekend that Ling Jihua, who has close ties to outgoing President Hu Jintao, had been removed as head of the Communist party’s powerful Politburo general office and given a new, less high-profile post.
It gave no explanation for the surprise move, but a day later, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, quoting unnamed sources, said Ling’s son had died in a high-speed Ferrari crash in Beijing in the early hours of March 18 that also injured two young women, one of whom was naked.
Reports of the crash first surfaced in March on China’s popular microblogs, along with speculation that the son of a senior Communist leader had been involved, but were quickly suppressed by the country’s army of online censors.
Photographs of the wreckage were briefly circulated online, sparking questions about how the son of a government official could afford a luxury sports car worth a reported five million yuan (around $800,000).
Online searches for the words “Ferrari crash” have been blocked in China ever since, underscoring the huge sensitivity of the issue ahead of the Communist Party leadership handover later this year.
China is wary about any information that highlights the country’s growing wealth gap, with its potential to trigger social unrest in the country of 1.3 billion people.
In June, Beijing blocked all web searches for the name of its vice president and likely next leader Xi Jinping after a report by Bloomberg detailing large investments by his extended family.
The latest scandal – which many Beijing-based political commentators refused to discuss, saying it was too sensitive – follows the downfall of former leader Bo Xilai, whose wife was last month convicted of murdering a British businessman.