A former Chinese property executive who openly criticized Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges Tuesday, a court announced.
Ren Zhiqiang, former chairman of a state-owned real estate group, disappeared from public view in March, after publishing an essay online that appeared to refer to President Xi Jinping as a “clown.” The essay came after Xi announced orders for combating the coronavirus crisis via video conference.
Xi has suppressed criticism, tightened censorship and cracked down on unofficial organizations. Dozens of journalists, labor and human rights activists and others have been imprisoned.
The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court found Ren, 69, guilty of embezzlement, bribery, misuse of public funds and abuse of power at a state-owned business, according to a notice on the judgment released by the court Tuesday.
Ren was a real estate tycoon for much of his business career and was widely known as “big cannon” for his outspoken remarks and was sometimes called “China’s Donald’s Trump.”
Ren Zhiqiang, who was formerly the ex-deputy party secretary and chairman of the state-owned Hua Yuan Real Estate Group, was handed down a sentence of 18 years in prison and a fine of 4.2 million yuan (620,000 dollars) by Beijing’s No. 2 intermediate People’s Court on Tuesday.
“The court ruled that the actions of the accused Ren Zhiqiang, including bribery, misappropriation, and embezzlement of funds, misuse of public funds, abuse of powers of a civil servant, shall be punished in accordance with the law,” the court declared in a statement released on its official website.
According to the statement, carried by the official Global Times daily, Ren misused his position between 2003 and 2017 “to embezzle more than 110 million yuan in public funds, received more than 1.25 million yuan in bribes, abused his power, and caused particularly heavy losses of more than 100 million yuan to a state-owned holding company.”
Reports also said that the court handed down the sentence after considering Ren’s acceptance of the charges and the ruling against him and his decision not to appeal the case.
The daily cited a July 24 statement by Beijing’s Xicheng district inspection and supervision committee of the Communist Party as saying that Ren had “seriously violated the Party’s political and organizational integrity, work and life discipline, constituting a duty-related violation of the law” as well.
At the time, the committee expelled Ren from the ruling party, confiscated his illegal gains, and transferred his case to “the procuratorial organs for review and prosecution in accordance with the law.”
Back in 2016, the committee had also deemed that Ren had violated the party’s political discipline and placed his party membership on probation for one year.
Other charges against the former party official included the publication of articles “defaming the Party and the country, as well as distorting the Party and military history,” the daily further added, in an an apparent reference to Ren’s criticism of the Chinese leadership.