Outspoken Chinese tycoon who called President Xi a “clown” jailed for 18 years

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Chinese property mogul and critic of President Xi Jinping is jailed on corruption charges after calling the president a clown.

Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of the public real estate group Huayuan, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds.

He was also fined 4.2 million yuan (£ 484,485), according to Beijing No.2 Intermediate Court.

The court verdict, delivered earlier today, said the 69-year-old had “willingly and honestly confessed to all his crimes” and would not appeal the court’s decision.

Human rights activists accuse President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of using corruption charges to silence dissent.

Ren Zhiqiang (pictured), the former chairman of the public real estate group Huayuan, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds

Ren, who was once part of the ruling Communist Party’s small circle, disappeared from the public eye in March shortly after writing an essay criticizing Xi’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The piece has since been cleansed from the Chinese internet, which routinely censors content that defies authorities but has been widely shared elsewhere online.

“This epidemic has exposed 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 central position,” Ren wrote. , without naming Xi.

He added: “There was not an emperor showing his new clothes, but a clown stripped of clothes who insisted on being an emperor. “

Human rights activists accuse President Xi Jinping (pictured) and the Communist Party of using corruption charges to silence dissent

Human rights activists accuse President Xi Jinping (pictured) and the Communist Party of using corruption charges to silence dissent

An escorted police van, believed to carry former Huayuan real estate group chairman Ren Zhiqiang, leaving Beijing's No. 2 Intermediate People's Court earlier in the day

An escorted police van, believed to carry former Huayuan real estate group chairman Ren Zhiqiang, leaving Beijing’s No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court earlier in the day

Ren’s influential blog post on the Twitter-like Weibo platform drew millions of followers before his account was shut down by authorities in 2016 after repeatedly calling for greater press freedom.

Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society since Xi took power in 2012, tightening restrictions on free speech and detaining hundreds of activists and lawyers.

The Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog opened an investigation into Ren in April ahead of the trial in a Beijing court on September 11.

A strong police presence guarded the courtroom with a handful of supporters gathered outside.

A supporter told AFP that they supported Ren because he “dares to tell the truth.”

A strong police presence (pictured) guarded the courtroom as a handful of supporters gathered outside - one claiming they were supporting Ren because he 'dares to tell the truth' '

A heavy police presence (pictured) guarded the courtroom as a handful of supporters gathered outside – one claiming they supported Ren because he “dares to tell the truth”

Ren was jailed for Tuesday 18 years for corruption, bribes and embezzlement of public funds.

The verdict claimed that he had embezzled nearly 50 million yuan (£ 5.8 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million yuan (£ 143,774), according to a statement from the Beijing Intermediate People’s Court No. 2.

He was also fined 4.2 million yuan (£ 484,485).

He also said that Ren had “abused his power” in his role in the Huayuan Group, which caused more than 116 million yuan in losses to the public holding company and more than 53 million yuan in real estate losses for. the group.

The online reaction to Ren’s conviction was also quickly cleaned up on Tuesday.

“The only real estate mogul who dares speak the truth in China has been censored,” read a comment on Weibo.

“He was born in 1951 and is 69 this year… maybe he won’t live to see the day he gets out of prison,” said another.

Ren, who was the son of a former deputy trade minister and Communist Party member for decades before being expelled in July, was well connected to the party’s elites.

He wrote in his memoir that he had been friends with Vice President and former anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan since they were teenagers, when Wang was assigned by their school to mentor young Ren.

He is also a controversial figure, especially in his defense of soaring property prices in China – once telling Chinese media that people who were unwilling to invest in real estate before the boom “now deserve to be poor ”.

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