A prominent Chinese billionaire has been sentenced to 18 years in prison, the latest in a string of punishments against outspoken corporate bosses.
Sun Dawu runs one of the country’s largest private agricultural businesses, Hebei Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, which operates massive farms and employs about 9,000 people in poultry processing, pet food production and schools and hospitals in the northern province of Hebei.
Sun, 67, has in the past spoken out about human rights and politically sensitive topics.
The court found him guilty of “assembling a crowd to storm state institutions, obstructing public service, picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – among other charges often used against activists.
He was also fined 3.11 million yuan (nearly US$500,000).
He was reportedly detained last year, along with 20 relatives and business associates, over a land dispute with a government-run farm.
According to Reuters, local media reported that Sun claimed that dozens of company employees were injured in a scuffle with police after attempts to prevent state farm staff from demolishing one of its buildings.
Sun is said to be close to some prominent Chinese political dissidents and has in the past criticised the government’s rural policies.
He was one of the few people to openly accuse the government of covering up an African swine flu outbreak which affected his farms in 2019, and later devastated much of the country’s pork industry.
He was sentenced to prison in 2003, for “illegal fundraising” but the case was overturned after an outpouring of support from activists and the public.
In the latest case, Sun reportedly denied many of the accusations against him in a pre-trial hearing, describing himself as an “outstanding Communist party member”.
He did however reportedly admit to making mistakes, including posting messages online.
“The way they’re investigating me now is making those close to us suffer and those who hate us rejoice. I wish to take the charges upon myself, even if they’re severe, in exchange for the release of others,” he said.
Beijing has been cracking down on businesses and entrepreneurs.
In a set of guidelines released in September 2020, the Communist Party said the private sector needed “politically sane people” who “would firmly listen to the party”.
Chinese billionaire Ren Zhiqiang was jailed for 18 years in September 2020 for corruption-related offences. Dubbed “the gun” for his outspoken views, Ren had sharply criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s coronavirus prevention strategy.
In an essay published in March 2020, which has been widely attributed to Ren, the author indirectly referred to Xi as a power-hungry “clown”.