A Chinese real estate mogul who once called President Xi Jinping a “clown” and criticized his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges, a Beijing court announced Tuesday.
Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of the state-owned Huayuan Group, was issued the punishment after being expelled from the Communist Party in June. He disappeared from public view in March after publishing an essay online that accused Xi of mishandling the outbreak that began in December in Wuhan.
In a commentary that circulated on social media, Ren criticized a Feb. 23 video conference with 170,000 officials held early in the pandemic at which Xi announced orders for responding to the disease.
Ren didn’t mention Xi’s name but said, “standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes but a clown who had stripped off his clothes and insisted on being an emperor.”
Ren also has criticized propaganda that portrayed Xi and other leaders as rescuing China from the coronavirus without mentioning where it began and possible mistakes including suppressing information at the start of the outbreak.
“People did not see any criticism at the conference. It didn’t investigate and disclose the truth,” Ren wrote, according to a copy published by China Digital Times, a website in California. “No one reviewed or took responsibility. But they are trying to cover up the truth with all kinds of great achievements.”
Xi, party leader since 2012, has suppressed criticism, tightened censorship and cracked down on unofficial organizations. Dozens of journalists, labor and human rights activists and others have been imprisoned under his tenure.
Ren, 69, was convicted Tuesday of corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court announced on its social media account. It cited Ren as saying he wouldn’t appeal.
The court is claiming Ren took $19 million in bribes between 2003 and 2017 and caused around $17 million in economic losses to unspecified state-owned companies, Bloomberg reports.
But some of Ren’s supporters are casting doubt on the allegations, saying an audit of him when he left the Huayuan Group in 2011 found no wrongdoing, the website added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.