BEIJING (AP) — A scandal involving Chinese city officials having sex with women hired by developers who secretly videotaped the trysts to extort construction deals broadened Friday with state media announcing that 10 more officials have been fired.
The first high-profile case broke in November when online video clips went viral of a 50-something official, Lei Zhengfu, in the throes of passion. Images of his jowly, pop-eyed face became targets of derision and disgust over government corruption.
Lei was fired as Communist Party chief of a district in the southwestern city of Chongqing. State media said Friday that 10 more district- and county-level officials in the city's government, party departments and state-owned enterprises who appeared in additional videos have been fired.
The involvement of officials from across various departments has exposed the intertwining of sex, money and politics and the often shady ties between real estate developers and local officials. The scandal hints at how widespread corruption is at various levels, said Liu Shanying, a politics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
"The incident in Chongqing is not accidental or exceptional. It should be said that it is rather common and that the problem is with corrupted lifestyles," Liu said.
"The atmosphere of officialdom is far from the traditional morality of ordinary people. Many local officials have lower moral standards than ordinary people, and the power they enjoy makes it easier for them to do immoral things," Liu said.
The expanding scandal comes as China's newly installed leadership has vowed to crack down on rampant official corruption that threatens the party's legitimacy. Even as China's new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping has repeatedly pledged to strike hard against graft, authorities have been faced with a steady stream of bribery cases and other malfeasance.
In recent weeks, Chinese audiences have been riveted by revelations that some officials have amassed multiple properties using duplicate or fake identities. Soaring real estate prices have pushed home ownership out of reach for many Chinese, so such scandals are especially infuriating to the public.
Zhu Ruifeng, a former journalist who released the first sex tape in the scandal, said at the time that the woman, whose face is not visible in the video, was hired by a construction company to sleep with Lei in return for construction contracts. The company later tried to use the tape to extort more business from Lei.
An official at the Chongqing city propaganda office referred questions about the scandal to reports by the local party newspaper, the Chongqing Daily, which carried a report by the state-run Xinhua News agency.
Citing the city's anti-corruption committee, Xinhua described the developers behind the extortion as a "criminal ring" and said the company had "hired women to seduce local officials, covertly filmed their sexual acts and used the videos as tools of extortion."
Associated Press researcher Flora Ji contributed to this report.