Oil Chief Caught in Ferrari Crash Probe

The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday that officials have questioned the head of China’s biggest oil and gas producer in connection with a potential cover-up of a March Ferrari crash that killed the son of Hu Jintao’s former top aide, specifically with regards to alleged hush payments made by the state-owned giant to the families of two female passengers injured the crash:

They said the probe into China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) chairman Jiang Jiemin focused on a large sum of money – several tens of millions of yuan – that was transferred from CNPC to the families of two women injured in the single-vehicle accident.

The episode raises doubts about corporate governance practices at CNPC, the giant state-owned energy company. Sources said the party’s top disciplinary officials were shocked by the ease with which such a large sum of money could be transferred out of a giant state firm without any accountability or proper documentation.

It also raises questions about the oversight capability of government regulators including the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, led by Wang Yong. At a group discussion at the party’s 18th congress last week among delegates from central government-administered companies and agencies, Jiang sat next to Wang in the front row.

Sources said Jiang had been trying to help Ling [Jihua], then head of the powerful General Office of the party’s Central Committee, pay compensation to the families of the other victims and prevent details of the car crash from leaking out to the public.

The crash occurred in March and attracted a considerable amount of attention in Chinese social media, though an official report from the Global Times did not mention the name of the driver. Key details did not emerge until September, when Ling Jihua was removed from his post atop the General Office of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The Wall Street Journal reported on the government’s response to the crash last month, calling out the quiet way in which officials suppressed information about the incident and spared Ling Jihua public embarrassment over his son’s lifestyle and his family’s wealth.

The involvement of CNPC and any payments made to the victims’ families, however, is new information. Sources also told the South China Morning Post that the investigation into Jiang may partly explain his disappearance from public view from late July onwards, which CNPC downplayed in a September statement. From The Financial Times:

Mao Zefeng, a PetroChina spokesman, told the Financial Times that Mr Jiang “presides over PetroChina and CNPC as usual”.

Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said Mr Jiang was ill, having been admitted to hospital in July, and was being treated.

However, citing CNPC, the agency added that he did not suffer from “cancer or any other serious illness”.

The Daily Mail also published several photos from the crash scene which had appeared on Chinese social media.