A close ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao has been unexpectedly demoted after his son's involvement in a fatal Ferrari crash last March.
China said at the weekend Ling Jihua was removed as head of the Communist party's powerful politburo general office and was given a new, less high-profile post.
The demotion was apparently prompted by the ruling Communist party's sensitivity to the perception that children of top officials live opulent lifestyles and are out of touch with the struggling masses.
China gave no explanation for the surprise move, but the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, quoting unnamed sources, said Ling's son had died in a high-speed Ferrari crash in Beijing in the early hours of March 18.
Two young women, one of whom was naked, were injured in the accident.
Ling could not be reached for comment on the matter.
Reports of the crash first surfaced in March on China's popular microblogs, along with speculation that the son of a senior Communist leader had been involved, but were quickly suppressed by the country's army of online censors.
Question of luxury
Photographs of the wreckage were briefly circulated online, raising questions about how the son of a government official could afford a luxury sports car worth around $800,000.
The country has already been rocked by the biggest political scandal in two decades - the sacking of Bo Xilai, an ambitious senior politician whose wife recently received a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman in a case that also involved a mix of money and power.
Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, told Al Jazeera the communist party was in a "fragile state".
"We know this because we have an extraneous event which is a car crash," he said.
"There are a lot of allegations about it. One thing that's interesting is that China right now doesn't have a strong leader who can say, 'Stop all of this infighting'. Therefore any excuse triggers more infighting.
"You had all the problems with Bo Xilai and now we've new problems with Ling. When you don't have a strong leader, there's nobody that tells top officials to stop fighting. And if this goes on, then the party could split apart."
Ling's was a powerful post, similar to cabinet secretary in Westminster-style governments.
He had been eyeing a promotion to the politburo - the party's policy-making council - and to become head of the party's Organisation Department, which oversees the appointment and dismissal of senior officials, sources said.
"The central leadership decided that the scandal over the incident was too serious to allow Ling Jihua to be promoted, and Hu Jintao really couldn't resist," a retired party official said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies