In the latest sex scandal to rock the Chinese leadership, the country's Finance Minister has been fired from his high-powered job, reportedly because of his involvement with a mistress.
Jin Renqing, who played a key role in overseeing China's stock market and financial reforms over the past four years, was abruptly removed from his job Thursday, the government announced.
Government spokesmen said only that Mr. Jin had left office for "personal reasons." But the announcement seemed to confirm reports that his moral lapses had made him a target for the government's campaign to crack down on immorality and corruption.
In almost every political scandal in China in recent months, the central figures have been accused of keeping mistresses. Analysts believe that China's Communist rulers are attempting a moral-cleanup campaign as they prepare for a crucial party congress in October to put the finishing touches on their leadership slate for the next five years.
The latest scandal began in December, when the party dismissed Du Shicheng, the party boss in Qingdao, a major port city. He was fired for "serious breaches of discipline," code words for personal corruption and sexual misconduct involving mistresses.
Hong Kong newspapers have reported that Communist investigators questioned a young woman who had an affair with Mr. Du. "To the shock of anti-graft officials, the woman, known as a social butterfly, later confessed she had also had intimate relationships with several senior government officials and some of them had abused their power to advance her business dealings," the South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday.
"The woman was also believed to have implicated Mr. Jin and several other senior government officials who have important roles advising on foreign and domestic policy," the newspaper said.
Another Hong Kong newspaper said Mr. Jin was fired because he introduced a woman to Chen Tonghai, the chairman of Sinopec, one of China's biggest state-owned oil companies, who resigned in June in a corruption scandal.
The habit of keeping attractive young mistresses, known as "second wives," has become increasingly common among China's officials in recent years. One survey found that 95 per cent of officials charged with corruption had mistresses.
The head of China's national statistics bureau, Qiu Xiaohua, was fired last October and charged with bigamy after he allegedly embezzled millions of dollars from Shanghai's city pension fund to give to his mistress.
Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu, who was dismissed from his job in connection with the same pension-fund scandal, was reported to have kept as many as 11 mistresses.
Beijing's vice-mayor, Liu Zhihua, was fired in 2006 after he was accused of keeping a mistress and funnelling money to her from construction projects. The state news media said he had "led a degenerate and decadent lifestyle" and had kept a pleasure palace on the outskirts of Beijing where he entertained women.
The Chinese news media have reported many similar cases, including a planning official who had 140 mistresses. The former head of the Bank of China in Hong Kong was reported to have spent about $850,000 on cosmetic surgery to make one of his mistresses resemble his first mistress.
Another official invited all 22 of his mistresses to a banquet and offered an annual award to the woman who gave him the greatest satisfaction. He was sentenced to death for corruption.
This year, the Communist Party announced that any official who keeps a mistress will be dismissed from his job.