Beijing, Jun 27: Two former Chinese defence ministers, Wei Fenghe and his successor Li Shangfu, who worked under President Xi Jinping's watch were on Thursday expelled from the ruling Communist Party and are set to be prosecuted in what was regarded as the worst scandal to hit the People's Liberation Army.

The Communist Party headed by Xi, has expelled Gen. Wei, 70, and Gen. Li, 66, for alleged corruption and launched prosecution proceedings against them after investigations reportedly found both of them indulged in corruption, separate official announcements said.

The year 2023 will also go down as the worst year for Chinese ministers as three of them including former Foreign Minister Qin Gang besides Wei and Li disappeared from public view.

Li, who went missing last year following an investigation into alleged corrupt practices, was expelled from the party on Thursday for serious violation of Party discipline and the law, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

A similar announcement said Wei too was expelled from the party and to be prosecuted.

Wei served as Defence Minister from 2018-23 and Li barely served a few months as his successor.

Li, a Chinese aerospace engineer who headed the People's Liberation Army's all-important Rocket (Missile) Force and was personally picked up for the top defence post by Xi himself, went missing last year, sparking speculation that he was being investigated for corruption and indiscipline.

Both served as State Councillors, the top post in the party and as a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high command of the PLA headed by Xi.

Both were deprived of their qualification as a delegate to the 20th CPC National Congress, according to a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

Li is among dozens of top PLA Generals either sacked or punished for corruption since Xi assumed power in 2012.

His sacking followed a major shakeup in the PLA Rocket (missile) Force in which its commander Li Yuchao and political commissar Xu Zhongbo along with others, were replaced without any official explanation.

Their summary dismissals sent shockwaves among the Chinese officialdom besides raising questions over the process of selection of officials for key jobs by Xi.

In a similar announcement, the CMC's disciplinary and supervisory agency launched an investigation against Li and Wei. The investigation found that they seriously violated political and organisational discipline. They sought improper benefits in personnel arrangements for themselves and others, took advantage of their posts to seek benefits for others, and accepted a huge amount of money and valuables in return.

Media reports here last month said Wei, whose prolonged absence from the public has sparked speculation about his fate, was reported to be politically safe after his name figured in the tributes paid to a senior Chinese legislator who passed away.

But not so as the party came down heavily on him too saying that a disciplinary and supervisory probe launched against him found that he had seriously violated party discipline and indulged in corruption.

The announcement said as high-ranking officials of the Party and the military, both lost faith and loyalty. Their actions failed the trust of the Party Central Committee and the CMC, and severely contaminated the political environment of the military, bringing enormous damage to the Party's cause, the development of national defence and the armed forces, as well as the image of senior officials, Xinhua reported.

Wei's violations are extremely serious, with a highly detrimental impact and tremendous harm, according to the investigation findings.

The Political Bureau has decided to forward their suspected criminal case to procuratorial organs of the military for examination and prosecution.

Li and Wei are just the latest senior PLA officers to be brought down in the ongoing anti-graft campaign. Nine generals, including previous and serving commanders of the PLA Rocket Force and the Air Force as well as several CMC officials with the Equipment Development Department, were dismissed from the National People's Congress in December.

Li spent decades in the equipment department, which oversees military procurement.

Wei took the helm of the PLA's Second Artillery Corps in 2012 and continued to lead this key part of the country's nuclear arsenal after it was restructured to become the rocket force in 2015, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

Before Li's disappearance, Qin disappeared suddenly in 2023 from public view after serving as China's shortest-serving foreign minister, before being stripped of his remaining titles in the government. PTI