When China's Communist Party chiefs met in Beijing to decide the fate of Bo Xilai, their disgraced comrade, they were handed a thick dossier detailing allegations of corruption, abuse of power and involvement in the murder of Neil Heywood, a British businessman.
But those Politburo leaders could have been forgiven if their eyes strayed to a list of famous women believed to be included in the pile of evidence.
For the case against Bo, expelled from the Communist Party on Friday and told he must face trial for a series of offences, is understood to have featured a list of his alleged mistresses, including some of the best-known female stars in China. He also supplied women for sexual favours to other party officials and businessmen, it has been claimed. Those identified in the dossier are said to include anchors from CCTV, the biggest state-owned television station in China, and television outlets as well as film and television stars.
Among those previously alleged to have associated with Bo is Zhang Ziyi, China's most famous film actress, the star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha.
But her lawyer told The Sunday Telegraph such claims were complete fabrication, and said there would be no evidence linking her to the disgraced politician.
Zhang is suing media outlets in Hong Kong and the US that accused her of being one of the 63-year-old Bo's string of conquests.
The scandal has cost her $750,000 in lost work and endorsements, according to John Mason, her US lawyer. "She has not even met Bo, and there is not a single photograph of them together anywhere," he said on Saturday.
Nevertheless, rumours of an alleged relationship resurfaced this weekend after the Communist Party released its official verdict on Bo: a lengthy list of crimes designed to bury him politically and which could result in his being sentenced to several decades in prison.
For decades, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, Bo "maintained inappropriate sexual relationships with many women," an accusation certain to tarnish his reputation. "It's an extremely conservative guess to say he had 100 mistresses," said Jiang Weiping, a journalist who has investigated Bo for two decades. "He was very powerful. He had girlfriends himself, and he also used women as a commodity to give to other officials."
Chinese newspapers yesterday gave prominent coverage to the Xinhua account of Bo's expulsion, weeks before a Communist Party congress in which a once-in-a-decade leadership change will be unveiled.
Many ordinary Chinese are inured to allegations of corruption against their party hierarchy. But the claims of serial womanising seem calculated to destroy his public reputation.
The allegations emerged following the death of Heywood, 42, a Bo family confidant. Bo's wife Gu Kailai was recently convicted with an aide of poisoning Heywood with cyanide in a hotel room after what officials claimed was a fallout over business dealings.
Jiang, who was jailed for his investigative journalism in Bo's former power base of Dalian and now lives in exile in Canada, claimed more details of the politician's philandering would emerge.
One of the women reportedly named in the dossier was a television host who disappeared from screens several years ago. She is rumoured to have received a $1.5 million pay-off from a business tycoon close to Bo after giving birth to a daughter fathered by the politician.
But Mason, of Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro in Los Angeles, firmly denied any evidence on Bo would include his client, Zhang, who is said to be in a relationship with a Chinese television presenter, Sa Beining. "I have no knowledge of [Bo's] case, but I doubt, based on the six years I have worked with Zhang Ziyi, that there will be a single piece of evidence that emerges about her," he said. "The actual damages [in this case], in terms of endorsements that we were in negotiations for and which did not go ahead are around $750,000," he added.
The actress is suing two publications in Hong Kong and Boxun, a Chinese-language website based in North Carolina. Meng Weican, a Chinese exile who runs Boxun, is fighting back with a lawsuit of his own and claims her legal action prevents his right to publish freely. "He has less chance of winning the motion than I have of becoming an astronaut," said Mason. "Calling a reputable woman a prostitute is not a protectable form of free speech."
Xinhua noted the seven-month investigation into Bo and his family "also uncovered evidence that suggests his involvement in other crimes". Jiang said Bo may have more "complicated problems", perhaps including smuggling, the possession of arms, and leaking state secrets abroad.
A respected political commentator in Beijing said Bo would be accused of taking bribes worth 6?million yuan (pounds 600,000) personally, and a further 20?million yuan through his family. A date for his trial has not been announced but many expect it to come before the party's congress, which begins on Nov 8. The same source predicted that Bo would receive a sentence of less than 20 years in prison, rather than the death penalty that some have anticipated.
China's leaders put on a show of unity yesterday at a National Day reception. but Bo's downfall has raised questions over whether the system as a whole is rotten. Liu Jian, of the Economic Observer newspaper, said in a blog: "[If] Bo Xilai was poor at managing people, [does that not mean] that every level of government was also imprudent in managing Bo?"
However, the Global Times, a state-run daily newspaper, said: "There is no single country that is free from problems. China should not expect to run anything, including politics, smoothly without a hitch."
Additional reporting by Valentina Luo and Sharon Wu