Beijing (AsiaNews) - A few days before the opening of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), the government's noose around Zhou Yongkangm, China's former national security "czar", appears to be getting ever tighter.
After the arrest of at least three of his loyalists, media reports today have confirmed that his brother was also taken into custody and that "informal" surveillance around his homes have been beefed up.
A spokesperson for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) also suggested that an investigation against Zhou could be announced soon.
The timing is not accidental. The National People's Congress will start 5 March. This is first time that its 3,000 members will meet since President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang took over.
Renewed every five years, the PNC simply rubberstamps what the Politburo and its Standing Committee decide.
Chongqing's former party secretary Bo Xilai's fall from grace was sanctioned at last year's NPC meeting (March 2013) by a vote of expulsion from the Party, which was followed by his trial.
Since Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013, the government ordered the arrest of 21 high-ranking officials, and at least six of them were Zhou protégés.
On 19 February, Ji Wenlin was arrested. For ten years, he was the former national security chief's right-hand man. He was preceded by Guo Yongxiang, a former deputy Sichuan governor, and Li Dongsheng, a former deputy minister of public security.
Liu Yingxia was taken into custody on 20 February. Described as "China's most fascinating entrepreneur", she was arrested on corruption charges because of her ties with Jiang Jiemin, at one time president of the China National Petroleum Corp and another Zhou loyalist.
Zhou Yongkang's brother Yuanqing, and the latter's wife Lingying are also in prison, state-controlled media reported today. The two had been arrested on 1 December 2013 by "discipline investigators from Beijing".
She took advantage of her family ties to obtain contracts on behalf of the China National Petroleum Corp. She "had a lot to do" with Zhou Yongkang's son Zhou Bin, a local paper reported.
On Sunday, Lu Xinhua, a spokesman for the CPPCC, a political advisory body that is part of the Communist Party-controlled governmental structure, avoided denying that Zhou was under investigation at a press conference.
"We mean it when we say anyone will be seriously investigated and severely punished as long as he violated the party's disciplines or the country's law, no matter who he is or how high-ranking his position is," Lu told South China Morning Post in reply to a question about Zhou's status.
"This is all that I can say to answer your question. You know what I mean," he said.
Other media outlets reported today that surveillance has been beefed up "significantly" around Zhou's home in Beijing and in his native village of Xiqiantou, in Jiangsu province.
Citing local residents, they say that Zhou's brother and son used to arrive in cars worth millions of yuan, when in fact the Zhous had been a humble family, among the poorest in the village.
In ten years under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao (2003-2013), Zhou's role became crucial, but it also generated a lot of criticism.
Using the unlimited authority given to him, he introduced some of the most repressive measures in the history of modern China, giving law enforcement agencies unprecedented human and material resources, as well as a legal framework that now allows them to hold anyone for up to six months without a court order.
His reforms have led to unfettered persecution of religious leaders, human rights activists and dissidents. And during his tenure, he used his power to enrich himself, his family and his protégés.