A Chinese billionaire who criticised President Xi Jinping’s handling of the pandemic has been jailed for 18 years on corruption charges, CNN reports.
Ren Zhiqiang, 69, a retired real-estate tycoon with close ties to senior Chinese Communist Party officials, disappeared in March after he allegedly criticised Xi’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic in an online article.
The anonymous author of the article criticised the party’s crackdown on press freedom and its intolerance of dissent.
Xi was not mentioned by name, but the country’s leader was described as a power-hungry “clown”. There were other apparent references to the children’s story of the emperor’s new clothes.
The essay went on to accuse the Communist Party of putting its own interests above the safety of the Chinese people.
On Tuesday, a court in Beijing found Ren guilty of charges ranging from embezzlement of public funds, to accepting bribes and abuse of power.
The court said he “voluntarily confessed all of his crimes”.
Judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison and imposed a fine of more than US$600,000.
China’s courts have a conviction rate of around 99% and corruption charges are often used to punish Communist Party insiders who fall from grace.
Ren had been disciplined by the leadership before for criticising Xi’s demands that Chinese state media must stay loyal to the party, but this time seems to have been his last chance as he will be an old man by the time he is released.
Ren’s heavy-handed treatment appears designed to send a tough message to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or defiance of Xi will not be tolerated.