In Jiang’s case, that patron was another oil man, Zhou Yongkang, who went on to become the chief of China’s internal security apparatus and one of the country’s most powerful men.
Like Zhou before him, Jiang rose to the top of country’s biggest oil producer, China National Petroleum Corporation. In return, say people familiar with his career, Jiang helped Zhou build power by using the oil giant to dispense patronage.
In March last year Jiang ascended even higher, when he was named to run the agency that oversees all of China’s biggest state-owned companies.
Their relationship was on display ahead of the party’s 18th congress in November 2012, when both attended a banquet for CNPC veterans of a 1980s drive to find oil in remote western China. In toasts and remarks, Jiang continually referred to Zhou as “the leader” and urged the oil men to “accept the leadership of the Party’s central committee” and of Zhou himself, says an executive who was at the banquet. The flattery, the executive says, “was so obvious.”
Today, the retainer’s loyalty to Zhou has backfired. In September, Jiang was sacked and arrested, a victim of a seismic power struggle as Chinese President Xi Jinping sets out to crush Zhou, the most senior leader targeted in a corruption probe since the Communist Party took power in 1949.
In a bid to isolate his rival, Xi is steadily taking down Zhou’s extensive web of colleagues, political allies, relatives, staff and business associates of his family, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Corruption investigators are swarming the CNPC group, where Zhou, 71, a geophysical engineer, built a vast network of friends and allies over the decades. Jiang, 58, is the most senior executive to fall in an ongoing purge of current and former managers of the petroleum giant. He is accused of using his position and CNPC’s massive budget to help Zhou buy political favors and maintain his network of supporters across China, according to people with ties to the Chinese leadership.