In a rare public appearance, the wife of a top Communist Party official has denied involvement in a $10 billion smuggling scandal that threatens to damage public faith in the party.

Lin Youfang, wife of Beijing's Communist Party leader, Jia Qinglin, denied reports emerging in Hong Kong and the foreign press that she is under investigation and that her husband has divorced her as a result of the probe. "It's nonsense," said Lin, speaking Wednesday in an interview with the Hong Kong-based, Beijing-funded Phoenix satellite television.

The interview was notable in a society in which wives of senior party members are sheltered from media attention. The decision to allow her to step out of the shadows was seen as a sign that the reports identifying her as a suspect in the case have upset China's leadership, which had been silent on the issue.

The smuggling scandal, believed to be the most far-reaching criminal case in 50 years of Communist rule, centers around Lai Changxing, a businessman who is suspected of bribing top government officials in southern Fujian province to help him smuggle in $10 billion worth of oil, cars and electronic goods.

Lin said she has never met Lai or had contact with his company, the Fairwell Group. She also scoffed at rumors that she and her husband have divorced, saying they are happily married and approaching their 40th wedding anniversary.

Jia, one of 22 members of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo, has been show on television in recent days making public appearances with President Jiang Zemin and receiving dignitaries from Hong Kong.

This has been interpreted as a show of support by the government. If borne out, the reports of the couple's involvement could hurt the party's image, as Jia is one of its highest-ranking officials and Jiang's protege.