Grins were on the faces of China National Petroleum executives this week as they celebrated a blockbuster 30-year deal for Russian gas. It was a good day for CNPC, the state-owned colossus at the center of China's oil and gas webs and one of Eurasia's biggest energy investors.
For some, however, those grins could soon turn to grimaces, because the deal comes against a backdrop of a series of high profile corruption investigations by the state, and CNPC has been caught in the dragnet. A former CNPC chairman is currently under investigation and a top executive of CNPC subsidiary PetroChina has just been arrested.
They are two of the biggest suspects in a spiraling drive against corruption that has become a hallmark of President Xi Jinping's rule.
The crackdown on executives at some of China's largest companies is yet more proof, if anyone needed it, that the Xi administration takes the latest anti-graft drive very seriously indeed.
But behind the arrests and investigations, some China watchers see signs of internal strife at the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party.
The list of energy execs under scrutiny by the national corruption fighting bureau, officially known by the Orwellian title, "Central Discipline Inspection Commission," is getting longer every week. One of the biggest fish was netted in September, when officials announced that CNPC's former chairman Jiang Jiemin was under investigation. Jiang also chaired CNPC's PetroChina subsidiary (ranked 6th on the Fortune Global 500 list), before his March 2013 move to head the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
Other prominent figures swept up by the state include:
Bo Qiliang, PetroChina vice president in charge of CNPC's overseas business, detained on or around May 13;
Zhang Benquan, general manager of CNPC's Iran subsidiary, detained in April;
Yan Cunzhang, general manager of PetroChina's foreign cooperation department, detained in April;
Li Hualin, former CNPC deputy general manager, reportedly a target of a Communist Party corruption probe;
Wang Daofu, former PetroChina chief geologist, under investigation along with Ran Xinquan, former general manager at PetroChina subsidiary Changqing Oilfield Co.;
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