Beijing says a celebrity police chief linked to one of the country's rising political stars spent a day in a U.S. consulate in southwestern China amid speculation that he sought political asylum.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun visited the consulate in the city of Chengdu, but gave no details.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman's office said that Wang entered the consulate on Monday and "remained there for one day." The statement, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, said the incident was being investigated. Dozens of newspapers carried the Xinhua report prominently on Friday without additional reporting, a sign that official censors were trying to limit potentially embarrassing coverage.
Wang was the top police officer in Chongqing until he was mysteriously removed last week.
He stayed on as a deputy mayor and was reassigned to duties involving the local economy and education. As the city's top cop, he had helped carry out a widespread crackdown on organized crime groups seen as part of a campaign to promote Bo Xilai, the city's Communist Party secretary and one of the country's most prominent political figures.
Bo has been seen as maneuvering for a seat on the ruling Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, which will appoint new members later this year.
Wang's whereabouts is unknown. There were several unconfirmed reports online, including one that showed a photo of Wang's name on a plane ticket from Chengdu to Beijing. The report said he had been brought to the capital for questioning by anti-corruption officials, a claim repeated by the usually reliable independent Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong.
State media ran photos Friday showing Bo visiting the southwestern province of Yunnan on Wednesday and Thursday with no mention of Wang.
The U.S. State Department confirmed earlier this week that Wang sought and had a meeting at the consulate but offered no details. He later left "of his own volition," the State Department said.
Wang had been one of China's most celebrated policemen, inspiring a drama on state TV lauding his personal bravery in assaulting gangs in Chongqing and the northeastern province of Liaoning where he previously served.
The uncertainty has fueled speculation over a falling-out between Wang and Bo, who has been one of China's most high-profile politicians.
Bo sits on the ruling Communist Party's 25-member Politburo, responsible for key decisions guiding the world's most populous nation and second largest economy. Bo appointed Wang to clean up Chongqing's corrupt police force and take on organized crime in a campaign that drew national attention.
Bo garnered huge publicity for the anti-crime campaign and an accompanying drive to revive communist songs and poems from the 1950s and 1960s, spurring talk that he was seeking a promotion. Those campaigns have since fizzled, leading analysts to pull back on speculation that he might be elevated to higher office when the party begins a generational change in leadership later this year.