A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds.
Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response.
His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.”
Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million yuan, according to a statement from the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court.
It said that the 69-year-old “voluntarily and truthfully confessed all his crimes,” and would not appeal the court’s decision.
He was also fined 4.2 million yuan.
Rights campaigners have accused Xi and the CCP of using corruption charges to silence dissent.
Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society since Xi took power in 2012, tightening restrictions on freedom of speech, and detaining hundreds of advocates and lawyers.
The verdict said that Ren also “abused his power” in his role at Huayuan Group, which caused more than 116 million yuan of losses to the state-owned holding company and more than 53 million yuan worth of property losses for the group.
The CCP’s disciplinary watchdog launched an investigation into Ren in April, and the trial opened at a Beijing court on Sept. 11 with a handful of supporters outside and a heavy police presence.
‘DARES TO SPEAK’
One supporter told reporters that they backed Ren because he “dares to speak the truth.”
Ren’s essay, from earlier this year, has been scrubbed from China’s Internet — which regularly censors content that challenges the authorities — but was shared online outside China.
“This epidemic has revealed the fact that the party and government officials only care about protecting their own interests, and the monarch only cares about protecting their interests and core position,” Ren wrote, without naming Xi.
“Standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes, but a clown stripped of clothes who insisted on being an emperor,” he wrote.
Ren’s influential blog on Sina Weibo attracted millions of followers before his account was closed by authorities in 2016 after he repeatedly called for greater freedom of the press.
Online reaction to Ren’s sentencing was also being rapidly scrubbed yesterday.
“The only real-estate tycoon who dares to tell the truth in China has been censored,” one comment on Weibo read.
“He was born in 1951 and is 69 years old this year ... maybe he won’t live to see the day he gets out of jail,” another said.
The son of a former vice minister of commerce and a CCP member for decades before he was expelled in July, Ren was well-connected with party elites.
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