BEIJING—China has placed under investigation the head of its national energy-planning agency—and the most prominent ethnic Uighur in the government—as part of a campaign against graft and other official misdeeds.
Nur Bekri, who is also deputy chief of the national economic-planning agency, is being probed for “serious violations of discipline and law,” the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement Friday. The allegation is usually used to describe corruption cases.
Mr. Bekri, 57, is one of China’s highest-ranking officials from the Uighur ethnic group, a Turkic, largely Muslim people native to the Xinjiang region in the country’s northwest. He was the regional governor for seven years, including during the 2009 ethnic riots during which Uighurs and Han Chinese clashed.
His appointment as director of the National Energy Administration in late 2014 made him one of the few Uighurs assigned to a senior national post that isn’t related to ethnic affairs. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mr. Bekri is the latest in a string of senior energy regulators snared by President Xi Jinping’s far-reaching anticorruption drive, launched in late 2012 to root out rampant graft, which has since expanded to target incompetence and negligence. Prosecutors said Thursday that they filed corruption charges against a former deputy to Mr. Bekri at the energy administration. Official statements don’t say if cases are related.
“Corruption in China’s energy sector is particularly bad, given the large sums of money involved” in government contracts, said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Xinjiang has significant oil and gas deposits, and Mr. Lam said, “It’s likely that a corruption ring is being taken down.”
Mr. Bekri spent most of his career in Xinjiang, climbing up the party and government bureaucracies before his transfer to Beijing four years ago.
Xinjiang’s government has recently captured international attention for the extrajudicial detention of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in re-education camps over the past two years. The Trump administration is considering sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the Xinjiang detentions. And at the United Nations Human Rights Council this week, France and Germany called for the camps to be shut down. Chinese officials say the camps are for vocational training, not political re-education.
In Xinjiang, a number of Uighur officials have been detained for alleged disloyalty to the Communist Party and failure to fully enforce its policies, as well as corruption and other violations, rights activists say.
During his years as the most senior Uighur official in Xinjiang, Mr. Bekri was seen as a firm enforcer of Beijing’s edicts on quashing dissent in the resource-rich region.
He drew criticism from international human-rights activists in 2014 when he publicly supported the Chinese government’s charges of separatism against well-known Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, who was later sentenced to life in prison.
At a 2014 meeting where Mr. Bekri’s transfer to Beijing was announced, then Xinjiang party chief Zhang Chunxian praised him as an “outstanding ethnic minority cadre” who has a “clear mind on major issues of right and wrong” and made “important contributions” to the region’s stability, according to the official Xinjiang Daily.
Mr. Bekri’s career had been under a cloud since his failure to retain his seat on the party’s governing Central Committee last year—an unusual demotion for a senior official who wasn’t retiring. He also left China’s national legislature this year after a decade as a lawmaker.
Even so, Mr. Bekri continued as chief of the National Energy Administration and was working as recently as this week, visiting Moscow to attend bilateral meetings on China-Russia economic cooperation.