Chinese billionaire jailed for 18 years after criticizing President over COVID-19


A Chinese billionaire who criticized President Xi Jinping's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been jailed.

Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon, was on Tuesday sentenced to 18 in prison years on corruption charges.



CNN reports that Zhiqiang disappeared in March after he penned a scathing essay that month criticizing the President's response to the COVID-19 epidemic. He was later charged with corruption-related offenses.

On Tuesday, a court in Beijing found Ren guilty on multiple charges, including embezzling some $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) for the state-owned property company that he once headed.

Judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison and imposed a fine of $620,000 (4.2 million yuan). The court said he "voluntarily confessed all of his crimes" and "was willing to accept the court's verdict after all of his illegal gains were recovered."

China's court system has a conviction rate of around 99%, according to legal observers, and corruption charges are often used to go after Communist Party insiders who stands against the leadership.

Ren's conviction and heavy sentence appears designed to send a message to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or defiance of the President's will not be tolerated, as China continues to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and faces intense international pressure from USA and others.

Born into the Communist Party's ruling elite, the 69-year-old Ren had often been outspoken on Chinese politics, far more than is usually allowed in the authoritarian state.

His forthrightness earned him the nickname "The Cannon" on Chinese social media.

In the essay published in March, widely attributed to Ren, the author lashed out at the party's crackdown on press freedom and intolerance of dissent. While the essay did not mention President Xi by name, it indirectly referred to the country's top leader as a power-hungry "clown."

"I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his 'new clothes,' but a clown who stripped off his clothes and insisted on continuing being an emperor," Ren allegedly wrote of President Xi's address to 170,000 officials across the country at a mass video conference on epidemic control measures on February 23.

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

"Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts, the people's lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system," Ren allegedly wrote.

Soon after the essay was published online, Ren disappeared, and relatives feared he had been detained.

Authorities later confirmed Ren was being investigated on corruption related charges in early April, and expelled the longtime member from the Communist Party in July, paving the way for his criminal prosecution.

This is not the first time Ren ran afoul of the Chinese leadership for speaking his mind.

In 2016, he was disciplined after questioning on social media President Xi's demands that Chinese state media must stay absolutely loyal to the party. He was put on a year's probation for his party membership and his wildly popular account on Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform, was shut down.

This time, however, there appears to be no second chance for Ren. If he serves his full sentence, he will be in his late 80s by the time he is released.

 

Subscribe to TMZ Naija

To receive alert from TMZ Naija, Adverts Placement, Stories & more, Contact via Whatsapp: 07032803990, email [email protected]

No comments: