Chinese tycoon who criticized Xi Jinping’s handling of coronavirus jailed for 18 years


A Chinese billionaire who has criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been jailed for 18 years on charges of corruption, a court said on Tuesday.

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Ren Zhiqiang, a former real estate mogul and government spokesperson, has been under investigation by the Communist Party.

Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate mogul with close ties to senior Chinese officials, disappeared in March after allegedly writing a scathing essay this month criticizing Xi’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. He was subsequently charged with corruption-related offenses.

On Tuesday, a Beijing court found Ren guilty of several counts, including embezzling $ 16.3 million (110.6 million yuan) in public funds, accepting bribes, and abuse of power that caused losses totaling $ 17.2 million (116.7 million yuan) to the state. belonging to a real estate company that he once managed.

The judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison and fined him $ 620,000 (4.2 million yuan). The court said he “voluntarily confessed to all of his crimes” and “was ready to accept the court’s verdict after all of his illegal earnings were clawed back”.

The Chinese justice system has a conviction rate of around 99%, according to legal observers, and corruption charges are often used to attack Communist Party insiders who clash with the leadership.

Ren’s conviction and heavy sentence appear designed to send a message to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or challenge of Xi will not be tolerated, as Beijing continues to grapple with the fallout from the pandemic and grapple with it. to intense international pressure from Washington and others.

‘The Canon’

Coming from the ruling elite of the Communist Party, Ren, 69, had often been outspoken about Chinese politics, much more than is usually allowed in an authoritarian state.

His frankness has earned him the nickname “The Cannon” on Chinese social networks.

In the essay published in March, widely attributed to Ren, the author criticized the party’s crackdown on press freedom and intolerance of dissent. Although the essay does not mention Xi by name, it obliquely refers to the country’s top leader as a power-hungry “clown.”

“I didn’t see an emperor standing there displaying his ‘new clothes’, but a clown who stripped down and insisted on continuing to be an emperor,” he reportedly wrote of Xi’s speech to 170,000 officials across the country during a mass video conference on measures to fight the epidemic on February 23.

The essay continued to accuse the Communist Party of putting its own interests above the safety of the Chinese people, to secure their rule.

“Without a medium representing the interests of the people by publishing the real facts, the lives of the people are ravaged by both the virus and the major disease of the system,” Ren reportedly wrote.

Shortly after the essay was posted online, Ren disappeared, and his relatives feared he had been detained. Authorities confirmed that Ren was under investigation on corruption charges in early April and expelled the longtime Communist Party member in July, paving the way for criminal prosecution.

This isn’t the first time Ren has clashed with Chinese leaders for saying what he thinks.

In 2016, he was sanctioned after questioning on social media Xi’s demands that Chinese state media must remain absolutely loyal to the party. He was put to the test for a year for his party membership and his hugely popular account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was shut down.

This time, however, there doesn’t seem to be a second chance for Ren. If he serves his full sentence, he will be about 80 years old when he is released.

© Provided by CNN
Ren Zhiqiang, former real estate mogul and openly government spokesperson.

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