At the centre of the Zhou Yongkang investigation is a familiar story: the life and career of his 42-year-old son Zhou Bin, a wealthy investor whose ascent seems to embody the tight relationship between money and power at the top of the party elite.
On Tuesday, the Chinese independent magazine Caijing reported that Zhou has been formally arrested for "involvement in illegal business operations" by the procuratorate in Yichang, a prefecture-level city in eastern China's Hubei province.
Authorities had detained the younger Zhou as he was leaving Singapore for the US in December, according to Reuters, the South China Morning Post and others. While initial accounts claimed that Zhou was simply aiding the investigation into his father, a raft of brazen state media reports this spring suggested that he was under investigation himself.
Zhou was born in 1972, as his father – the head of China's domestic security until he retired in 2012 – was beginning to build a career in the country's state-owned oil industry. He moved to Texas in 1993 to attend university; there, he met his wife, Huang Wan, 42, who also has a family background in oil. They relocated to Beijing in 2000 and, until last year, occupied a multimillion-pound villa in the city's north-eastern suburbs.
Zhou Jr reportedly owns property in California, New Jersey and Texas. Although his holdings range from hydropower to real estate, most of his companies produce equipment for the oil industry, the core of his father's power base.
China's anti-corruption authorities detained scores of the elder Zhou's family members over the past year, as they expanded their inquiries. According to a New York Times investigation in April, authorities targeted Zhou's "wife, a son, a brother, a sister-in-law, a daughter-in-law and the son's father-in-law," all of whom had apparently used Zhou's political clout for financial gain.
Although Zhou Bin appears less severe than his perennially unsmiling father – he wears wire-framed glasses and coiffed hair – he "often acted as if the security apparatus commanded by his father was available for his personal use," anonymous sources told the Financial Times last autumn.
Yet Zhou Bin's case was unique for the vim with which Chinese media reported it, reflecting a high-level campaign to discredit his family. In March, the state-run Beijing News linked him to a major public housing scandal. The independent magazine Caixin explored his business dealings with a Sichuanese mafia boss.
According to an exposé in the Beijing News, Zhou acquired the rights to a neighborhood renovation project through his university roommate, Mi Xiaodong; he then "transferred the project to professional real estate companies for profit". Graft investigators detained Mi in October.
Caixin looked into Zhou's alleged connections to Liu Han, a Sichuan mining tycoon and "mafia style" gang leader, charged late last month with murder. Liu purchased tourism assets from Zhou at inflated prices more than a decade ago to win his favour, the magazine reported.