Yu Yanshan, 49, head of the NEA’s development and planning division, was detained by prosecutors on Thursday.
An insider, who requested anonymity, said Yu is suspected of being involved in soliciting illicit money from academic projects.
Yu, a native of Anhui province, holds a doctorate in engineering. He began his career in officialdom at the age of 30 and worked his way up to become the director of the policy research department of the former Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. He participated in the design of the current energy policy after being appointed head of NEA’s policymaking division.
The NEA is responsible for China’s energy policymaking and oversees sectors including electricity, coal, oil and gas, and new and renewable energy. Among the powers NEA officials wield, that of approving major projects provides them with ample scope for corruption.
The administration is under the management of the graft-tainted National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning body, which has had 11 officials punished for corruption in the first nine months of this year.
In September, former deputy chief of the NDRC, Liu Tienan, was accused of taking bribes worth 35.5 million yuan ($5.8 million) over 10 years, during which time he was a department chief and later vice-minister of the commission. This was followed by the fall of a number of high-ranking officials in the sweeping anti-graft campaign.
Before Yu came under investigation, five other officials at or above director-level in the NEA had been investigated since the nationwide anti-graft campaign began in late 2012.
The energy sector, one of the biggest and most profitable industries in China, has been a focus of the anti-corruption campaign.
Earlier this month, China’s top procuratorate investigated Wei Pengyuan, deputy director of the NEA’s coal department, and found more than 200 million yuan in cash stashed in his home. If the 100 yuan notes were laid out end to end, the haul would stretch almost 155 kilometers – the combined length of Beijing’s third and fifth ring roads. The seizure was the largest haul so far since the Chinese leadership declared war on corruption two years ago.
Sixteen cash-counting machines were brought in to tally the money and four of them burned out in the process.
Four other senior officials being investigated are Xu Yongsheng, deputy head of the NEA; Wang Jun, head of the renewable energy division; Hao Weiping, director of the nuclear power division; and Liang Bo, deputy director of the electricity division.
Yan Jirong, a professor at Peking University’s School of Government, said the corruption cases that have kept cropping up recently in the NEA reflect the controlling power of the department in the country’s energy sector.
“When the officials have sufficient power to decide the result of a mega project, they have the opportunities to accept bribes,” he said.
There is an urgent need to limit the power of the NEA and make its planning processes transparent to the public, Yan said.