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Acting Communist Party chief of Tianjin placed under investigation for suspected graft

The Chinese Communist Party has placed its official in charge of the large northern municipality of Tianjin under investigation for possible corruption, the national anti-graft watchdog said late Saturday.

Huang Xingguo, 62, was suspected of “serious violation of disciplines”, a term that usually refers to corruption, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

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Huang was made mayor of Tianjin in 2007 and took on the additional role of acting party secretary in 2014 but he had not yet been permanently appointed – an unusually long time in provincial politics.

Before falling under suspicion, Huang was seen as a contender for the party’s 25-member Politburo, possibly joining the decision-making body at next year’s 19th party congress.

The investigation was announced 13 months after a deadly warehouse blast in Tianjin, for which Huang previously said he bore “unexcusable” responsibility.

The blast killed 162 people and displaced thousands of residents, most of whom were living less than 1km from the chemical storage site and saw their apartments destroyed. Many residents blamed lax regulations for the explosion.

Top officials in Beijing, including Premier Li Keqiang, vowed to go after “anyone involved” in the blast, A formal investigation concluded this February, with five officials at the deputy-provincial or ministerial level held responsible, receiving demotions, demerits or warnings. But Huang was not mentioned.

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Huang spent the first 30 years of his career in Zhejiang province. It was under the watch of Zhang Dejiang, the province’s party chief at the time and the current chair of the National People’s Congress, that Huang was made a member of the provincial standing committee.

He was made deputy party chief of Tianjin in 2003, one year after President Xi Jinping took over Zhejiang province as its party chief.

Huang’s latest public appearance was on Friday, according to an official report. He met the visiting deputy chair of Taiwan’s Kuomintang party, Jason Hu, and representatives of teachers in Tianjin, one day ahead of the mainland’s observance of Teacher’s Day.