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New scandal in China as key official sidelined over car crash

BEIJING -- China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition has been hit by reports of fresh scandal, with a senior ally of President Hu Jintao being demoted after sources said the ally's son was involved in a deadly crash involving a luxury sports car.

The car — a Ferrari, according to some of the sources — crashed in Beijing on March 18 in an embarrassment for the ruling Communist Party, sensitive to perceptions that children of top party officials live rich, privileged lifestyles completely out of touch with the masses, the sources said.

The country has already been rocked by the biggest political scandal in two decades — the sacking of Bo Xilai, an ambitious senior politician whose wife recently received a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman in a case that also involved a mix of money and power.

The car crash, the details of which are still shrouded in mystery, reportedly involved the son of Ling Jihua, 55, who state media said was dropped at the weekend as head of the party's General Office of the Central Committee.

It is a powerful post, similar to cabinet secretary in Westminster-style governments. Ling is very close to Hu.

Ling could not be reached for comment on the matter. He had been eyeing a promotion to the Politburo — the party's policy-making council — and to become head of the party's Organization Department, which oversees the appointment and dismissal of senior officials, sources said.

“The central leadership decided that the scandal over the incident was too serious to allow Ling Jihua to be promoted, and Hu Jintao really couldn't resist,” a retired party official said.

Sources close to the leadership, speaking on condition of anonymity, said three young people were in the car at the time of the crash, including the ally's son, aged in his 20s. At least one of the trio died in the crash, they added, but the victims' identities were unclear. They did not know the son's full name.

One source and a journalist who once worked for a party publication — both speaking on condition of anonymity — said the son had died in the crash, and the source added that the son's death certificate had been changed to disguise his identity.

The South China Morning Post first reported this alleged cover-up on Monday, saying the son's surname had been changed to “Jia”, which has the same pronunciation as the word “fake” in Chinese. The newspaper gave the son's real name as Ling Gu.

A second source with ties to China's leadership said the son had not died in the crash. The South China Morning Post said two women, one aged in her 20s and the other in her 30s, were seriously injured.

The Beijing city government and police have declined to comment on the accident.

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