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Beijing - 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 involvement in a fatal 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 5 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.
The latest scandal Ä which many Beijing-based political commentators refused to discuss with AFP, saying it was too sensitive Ä follows the downfall of former leader Bo Xilai, whose wife was last month convicted of murdering a British businessman.
Gu Kailai was found guilty of poisoning Neil Heywood after a multi-million dollar business deal went sour, in a case that raised questions over the lavish lifestyles of some of China's top leaders.
Both cases touch on the huge wealth amassed by many senior leaders in China Ä a highly controversial issue in a country where tens of millions still live below the poverty line.
Many send their children to be educated abroad Ä Bo Guagua, son of Gu and Bo, attended an exclusive British private school before studying at Oxford, and was also reported to have driven a Ferrari. - Sapa-AFP