A Chinese real estate tycoon, who has been a vocal critic of the Communist Party leadership, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges and fined 4.2 million yuan (US$620,000) on Tuesday.
Ren Zhiqiang, 69, said he would not appeal, according to a statement released by Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court, which found that the property developer had taken advantage of his position to embezzle more than 49.74 million yuan in public funds between 2003 and 2017.
The court also found that, over the same period, Ren had “accepted bribes worth more than 1.25 million yuan; misappropriated 61.20 million yuan of public funds, and abused his power [as a state employee] causing 116.7 million yuan in heavy losses to state-owned companies” for a personal gain of more than 19.41 million yuan.
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“[Ren] has voluntarily confessed his crimes, admitted to all the accusations against him as presented [in court], and voluntarily accepted the court’s judgment,” the court said, adding that his plea for leniency had been taken into account in sentencing.
Ren grew up in a revolutionary family and was a member of the Communist Party but his outspoken criticism of the party’s leadership earned him the nickname “Ren the Big Cannon”. He was slammed by state media in 2016 for “pursuing Western constitutionalism”.
In one of his most recent articles – circulating online since March – Ren criticised the government’s mishandling of the initial coronavirus outbreak at the beginning of this year, just as Beijing was promoting its success in containing the pandemic under the party’s leadership.
Without mentioning any names, Ren said in his article that an “emperor” and a “clown” had personally directed China’s fight against Covid-19.
Ren was taken away from his sister’s home in Beijing by the capital’s party disciplinary officials in March and held at the Mangshan detention centre on the city’s outskirts for four months before being handed over to prosecutors in late July. At the same time, he was stripped off his party membership for “violations of party discipline and the law”.
The party’s disciplinary body said Ren had been at odds with the leadership on “issues of principles” and had published articles that contradicted “the Four Cardinal Principles” – a reference to the Communist Party’s unchallenged leadership status.
In addition, the disciplinary body said he had “brought the country and party into disrepute”, exhibited disloyalty to the party, and resisted its investigation.
Ren chose to defend himself during the September 11 court hearing, according to a source close to his family. The South China Morning Post reported earlier that lawyers hired by the family had not been allowed to meet him before the trial. “He might have chosen to admit to all charges, so as not to implicate others,” the source said.
Ren’s trial was secretive with a heavy security presence. Both plain-clothed and uniformed police officers could be seen from early morning until late afternoon at the court building on the day of the hearing. Diplomats from Australia, the European Union, Japan and the US were not granted approval to sit in the courtroom, according to a diplomatic source.
A Beijing-based lawyer familiar with corruption cases said Ren’s sentencing had been “on a fast track” compared to others.
“Normally, it will take years to complete a corruption investigation and start prosecution. Some cases even last over four-five years. But Ren’s investigation only lasted six months. Obviously things are moving very fast on Ren’s case.”
Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor-in-chief of the Study Times – official newspaper of the party’s Central Party School – said “although we expected he was unlikely to get off lightly, the long jail term still surprised many”.
“The Chinese political, business and intellectual elites are watching the case closely, because Ren combined four identities in one. He is a princeling, a billionaire, a close friend with powerful people, and a public intellectual. He can move a lot more opinions and resources than most other dissidents,” said Deng, who is now based in the US as an independent political analyst.
According to his memoir, Ren has two children – a son from a previous marriage and a daughter with his present wife.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang goes missing after criticising Beijing’s response to coronavirus outbreak
- Tycoon who criticised China’s ‘emperor’ and ‘clown’ faces corruption trial
This article China Communist Party critic Ren Zhiqiang gets 18 years for corruption first appeared on South China Morning Post