Dissident tycoon Ren Zhiqiang sentenced to 18 years for corruption

The "Big Cannon" of the Chinese Communist Party is charged with embezzlement of public funds amounting to 6.3 million euros. Judges claim Ren declared his guilt. Family members and observers: irregular trial, held behind closed doors; impressed because he told the truth about leadership mistakes. He called Xi Jinping "a power hungry clown".

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The dissident billionaire Ren Zhiqiang was sentenced today to 18 years in prison and to pay a fine of 4.2 million yuan (530 thousand euros) for corruption offenses: this was revealed by the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court.

Judges deliberated that between 2003 and 2017 Ren used his role as a manager of a public company to embezzel state funds worth about 50 million yuan (6.3 million euros). In the same period, he allegedly pocketed 1.25 million yuan (160 thousand euros) in bribes and abused his power for a personal gain of 19.41 million yuan (2.4 million euros). For the crimes committed by the magnate, the Huayuan Real Estate Group, the large construction company of which he was director, had losses equal to 116.7 million yuan (14.6 million euros).

Ren, nicknamed the "Big Canon" for his attacks on the leadership, was "arrested" on March 12 by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) disciplinary officials. He belongs to an important family of revolutionary leaders. Shortly before his disappearance, he had risen to prominence for posting an article on the web calling Xi Jinping a "power hungry clown". Without ever naming him, instead referring to "the emperor", the tycoon criticized the Chinese president for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the conflicts with the US and those with Taiwan.

This resulted in Ren being banned by the Party in August. The CCP Disciplinary Commission placed him under investigation for violating the "four cardinal principles", the theoretical basis on which the undisputed leadership of the Party rests, and for having damaged the image of the regime.

The judges pointed out that Ren admitted his guilt and pleaded guilty to all charges. He would have asked for "clemency", a request that the judges claim to have taken into account in formulating the verdict.

Friends, family members and humanitarian activists questioned the legality of the trial, which was held behind closed doors. Diplomatic sources cited by the SCMP say the Chinese authorities prevented envoys from Western and Japanese embassies from attending the hearings.

Ren’s supporters’ claim that Ren paid for telling the truth about leadership mistakes. According to Cai Xia, a former teacher of the Central Party School, expelled from the CCP on 17 August for attacking Xi and defending Ren, the billionaire is the most important and resolute member of a group that wants to introduce constitutional democracy in China.