Home / World / Ren Zhiqiang: Chinese tycoon who criticized Xi Jinping’s handling of coronavirus and has been imprisoned for 18 years

Ren Zhiqiang: Chinese tycoon who criticized Xi Jinping’s handling of coronavirus and has been imprisoned for 18 years

Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate agent with close ties to high-ranking Chinese officials, disappeared in March after allegedly writing a scathing essay earlier that month criticizing Xi’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. He was later charged with corruption offenses.

On Tuesday, a Beijing court found Ren guilty of several charges, including embezzlement of US $ 16.3 million (110.6 million yuan) in public funds, taking bribes, and abuse of power causing losses to the state $ 17.2 million (116.7 million yuan). owned a real estate company that he once ran.

The judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison and fined him $ 620,000 (4.2 million yuan). The court said he “voluntarily confessed to all of his crimes”

; and “was ready to accept the court’s verdict after all of his illegal profits were recovered”.

According to court observers, China’s judicial system has a conviction rate of around 99%, and corruption allegations are often used to track down Communist Party insiders who run counter to leadership.

Ren’s conviction and severe punishment appear to be designed to convey the message to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or defiance against Xi will not be tolerated as Beijing continues to grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic and strong international pressure from Washington and China is exposed to Others.

“The cannon”

Born into the ruling elite of the Communist Party, 69-year-old Ren was often open to Chinese politics, far more than is normally allowed in the authoritarian state.

His openness earned him the nickname “The Cannon” on Chinese social media.

In the article widely attributed to Ren, published in March, the author discussed the party’s crackdown on press freedom and intolerance of dissent. While the essay did not mention Xi by name, he loosely referred to the country’s supreme leader as a power-hungry “clown”.

“I didn’t see an emperor standing there displaying his ‘new clothes’ but a clown taking off his clothes and insisting on being emperor,” Ren reportedly wrote at a mass video conference of Xi’s addressing 170,000 officials across the country to fight the disease on February 23.

In the article, the Communist Party was accused of putting its own interests above the security of the Chinese people in order to secure its rule.

“Without a medium to advance people’s interests by publishing the real facts, people’s lives are plagued by both the virus and the serious illness of the system,” Ren reportedly wrote.

Shortly after the article was published online, Ren disappeared and relatives feared he had been arrested. The authorities confirmed that Ren was investigated on corruption charges in early April and expelled the longtime Communist Party member in July to pave the way for prosecution.

This is not the first time Ren has run counter to the Chinese leadership for voicing his opinion.

In 2016, he was disciplined after questioning Social Media Xi’s demands that Chinese state media remain absolutely loyal to the party. He was put on trial for one year for party membership and his hugely popular account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was closed.

This time, however, Ren doesn’t seem to have a second chance. If he serves his full sentence, he will be in his late 80s by the time he is released.

CNN’s James Griffiths, Nectar Gan and Ben Westcott contributed to the coverage.

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