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Head of Shanghai's F1 racing circuit fired over alleged misuse of city pension fund

The head of Shanghai's multimillion dollar Formula One auto racing track has been fired as part of an investigation into the alleged misuse of city pension funds, state media reported Monday.

Yu Zhifei, a former city government official and general manager of the Shanghai International Circuit, also was expelled from the Communist Party and is facing prosecution, the Shanghai Daily and other newspapers said.

Yu was a key force behind Shanghai's racing circuit, designed by famed German architect Hermann Tilke and located on former swamp land about one hour west of the city.

The track has hosted three editions of the Grand Prix of China in auto racing's highest profile series, along with the motorcycle MotoGP and other top races.

While some have questioned the cost of the facility - some reports have listed a US$240 million price tag _ the three-year-old circuit has become a prominent part of Shanghai's effort to market itself as an Asian business center.

Backers say each event at the track brings the city's hotels and nightspots millions of dollars (euros) in revenue, while lending Shanghai some of the glitz and thrill of top-tier motor sports.

In a separate report, the official Xinhua News Agency said Yu used his position as general manager of the Shanghai Shenhua Soccer Club to embezzle funds from it and an international trading company affiliated with the club.

Earlier this year the financially troubled club was acquired by and merged with its cross-town rival, Shanghai United.

Yu is thought to be close friends with the city's former top leader, Chen Liangyu, who was sacked last year over allegations of corruption and other abuses - the highest-level dismissal of a Communist Party official in a decade.

President and party chief Hu Jintao has been removing political foes ahead of a key party congress this fall.

Chen was considered a protege of Hu's predecessor and sometimes rival, Jiang Zemin, and had repeatedly defied Beijing's demands to slow the pace of economic growth and curb spending on big projects.

A former district head, Chen Chaoxian, and the former director of the city's state-owned assets supervision bureau, Ling Baoheng, were also fired, expelled and referred to prosecutors, the papers reported.

The reports gave few details of the charges, but said Yu had allegedly taken public money to buy a house and pay off personal debts. Chen and Ling were found to have taken bribes in return for favors, the reports said.

Staff at the city government spokesman's office confirmed the reports but would give no further information.

More than a dozen people are thought to have been targeted in the probe into misuse of city pension funds, about 3.2 billion yuan (US$400 million; euro309 million) of which was improperly invested in real estate and road toll projects.

A highway connecting Shanghai to the Formula One track is among the allegedly tainted projects, although there is no indication the track was built with diverted pension funds.

Shanghai's mayor said in January the misused money was recovered, but new allegations of abuses continue to crop up.

Reports also said Yin Guoyuan, the former vice director of the land and housing management bureau, was handed to prosecutors amid a probe into bribe-taking in return for real estate approvals.

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