BEIJING – China's top prosecutor's office said Sunday it is conducting a bribery investigation into a high-ranking official who was the mayor of a port city at the time of a warehouse explosion that killed 173 people.
The two-sentence announcement about Huang Xingguo by the national prosecutor's office made no mention of the explosion in a warehouse in Tianjin, a city of 15 million people east of Beijing. But other officials have been punished on charges they took bribes to ignore safety violations that led to the blast, one of China's deadliest workplace accidents.
Investigators found the warehouse held illegal stores of the combustible fertilizer ammonium nitrate, which caught fire and caused a series of blasts.
At a public meeting last year, Huang, who was the city's interim Communist Party chief and mayor, expressed "deep compunction" about the explosion.
State media reported in September that he had been removed from his positions. He was expelled from the ruling party this month.
The country's Central Committee for Discipline Inspection said Huang had "severely violated political discipline," according to the official Xinhua News Agency. It said he took "huge bribes of property and money" and used his position to improperly benefit his son and others.
Most of the people killed in the explosion were firefighters and police who weren't told ammonium nitrate was in the building.
The accident drew international attention to China's workplace safety problems and endemic corruption. Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a signature national anti-corruption campaign snaring officials and party cadres at all levels.
The head of a logistics company linked to the blast was given a suspended death sentence and lesser penalties were imposed on 48 other government officials and company employees. And the former head of China's national safety regulator, the State Administration of Work Safety, was charged last year with taking bribes and embezzlement.
Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.