Former tycoon convicted on corruption charges

The Chinese billionaire who criticized the actions of the PRC leader Xi Jinping in connection with the coronavirus pandemic was sentenced to imprisonment for 18 years on corruption charges.

Retired real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, with close ties to senior Chinese officials, disappeared in March after allegedly writing a scathing essay criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. The billionaire was later charged with corruption-related offenses, CNN reports.

On Tuesday, a court in Beijing found Ren guilty on multiple charges, including embezzling about $ 16.3 million in government funds, accepting bribes, and abuse of power that resulted in $ 17.2 million in losses to the state.

The judges sentenced the rich man to 18 years in prison and fined $ 620,000 (4.2 million yuan). The court stated that he “voluntarily confessed to all his crimes” and “was ready to accept the court’s decision after all his illegal proceeds were returned.”

Ren Zhiqiang, 69, said he would not appeal, according to a statement from the Beijing Intermediate People’s Court, which found that the developer took advantage of his position to embezzle more than 49.74 million yuan of government funds between 2003 and 2017.

As noted by CNN, Ren’s conviction and harsh verdict appear to be intended to send a signal to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or disobedience to Xi will be unacceptable as Beijing continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic and face intense international pressure from the United States.

Coming from a revolutionary family and himself a member of the CCP, Ren Zhiqiang has often been overly outspoken about China’s politics, and his directness has earned him the nickname “Big Cannon Ren,” on Chinese social media, and a lot of trouble.

In an essay published in March, attributed by many to Ren, the author sharply criticized the party’s crackdown on press freedom and intolerance of dissent. Although the essay does not mention Xi by name, it indirectly refers to the country’s top leader as a power-hungry “clown.” Also in the essay, the Chinese Communist Party was accused of putting its own interests above the safety of the Chinese people in order to secure its rule.

Ren disappeared shortly after the essay was published online, and his family feared his arrest. Authorities confirmed that Ren was under investigation for corruption charges and that the billionaire was expelled from the Communist Party in July, setting the stage for his prosecution.

In 2016, Ren Zhiqiang was disciplined after he questioned Xi Jinping’s demands on social media that China’s state media remain completely loyal to the party. Ren received a year’s probation, and his highly popular Weibo account was closed. State media criticized him for his “commitment to Western constitutionalism.”

Now everything has turned out much more serious for the tycoon – if he serves a full term, then by the time of his release he will be under 80 years old.

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