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China

Top Chinese religious affairs official faces probe

Zhang Lebin accused of corruption

ucanews.com reporters, Beijing and Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporters, Beijing and Hong Kong

Published: September 23, 2015 10:43 AM GMT

Updated: September 23, 2015 03:40 PM GMT

Top Chinese religious affairs official faces probe

A senior religious affairs official is facing investigation as part of President Xi Jinping’s far-reaching anti-corruption drive in the first such case against a top party member responsible for managing religions in China.

Zhang Lebin, a deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, or SARA, was accused of "serious violation of discipline" in a brief announcement by the Communist Party central discipline commission on Sept. 22. No further details were used in the announcement, which used 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 politics website dwnews.com reported on Sept. 22 that Zhang has remained under investigation since the first half of the year.

Zhang was responsible for overseeing Muslims 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, 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 role, the probe against him is instead thought to be related to Ling Jihua, the former head of the United Front Work Department 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 organizations 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 SARA," according to dwnews.com.

Zhang is one of a number of colleagues, friends and family of Ling to face being purged by Xi after he took over the presidency from Hu Jintao, for whom Ling served as an aide.

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