Purged Chinese leader Bo Xilai ran a sophisticated bugging system that did not even spare his party boss and President Hu Jintao and this led to his downfall, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
When Hu, also General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anti-corruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped -- by local officials in that southwestern metropolis, the paper said.
The discovery of the devices and other wiretapping episodes led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing's 62-year-old charismatic leader, Bo, it said.
Until now, the downfall of Bo has been cast largely as a tale of a populist who pursued his own agenda too aggressively for some top leaders in Beijing and was brought down by accusations that his wife had arranged the murder of Neil Heywood, a British consultant, after a business dispute.
"But the hidden wiretapping, previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal, appears to have provided another compelling reason for party leaders to turn on Mr Bo," the Times said.
"The story of how China's president as monitored also shows the level of mistrust among leaders in the one-party state," the paper said.
Nearly a dozen people with ties to the Communist Party, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, confirmed the wiretapping, as well as a widespread programme of bugging across Chongqing. But the party's public version of Bo's fall omits it.
Party insiders say the wiretapping was seen as a direct challenge to central authorities in Beijing. It revealed to them just how far Bo, who is now being investigated for serious disciplinary violations, was prepared to go in his efforts to grasp greater power in China.
According to senior party members, including editors, academics and people with ties to the military, Bo's eavesdropping operations began several years ago as part of a state-financed surveillance buildup, ostensibly for the purposes of fighting crime and maintaining local political stability.
The architect was Wang, a nationally decorated crime fighter who had worked under Bo in the northeast province of Liaoning.
Together they installed "a comprehensive package bugging system covering telecommunications to the internet," according to the government media official. Political figures were targeted in addition to those suspected of being mobsters.