Chinese Property Tycoon Ren Zhiqiang Sentenced to 18-Year in Corruption Case
By Joyce Huang September 22, 2020
A court in Beijing Tuesday gave Chinese property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who once referred to Chinaâ€™s top leader, Xi Jinping, as a â€śclown,â€ť an 18-year prison sentence and a fine of $620,000 after finding him guilty of corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power as an executive of a state-owned enterprise.
Some Chinese dissidents called the verdict â€śshamelessâ€ť and a â€śpolitical persecutionâ€ť while observers, with whom VOA spoke, said the ruling aims to silence dissidents and members in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who are critical of Xi â€“ a sign that also underscores the lack of confidence in his rule.
â€śThis is an example to show that thereâ€™s an undercurrent in the party opposing Xi Jinping. And Xi Jinping is trying to do anything [he can] to suppress, to prevent those, who oppose him, from coming together,â€ť Yang Jianli, a Chinese dissident who now lives in the U.S. and is president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, told VOA before the ruling.
Charges against Ren
According to a statement released by Beijingâ€™s No.2 Intermediate Peopleâ€™s Court, Ren was found to be corrupt and to have received an illicit gain of nearly $7.4 million, taken $184,500 in bribes and embezzled $8.9 million in public funds between 2003 and 2017, when he served as the chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group.
The court also found Ren abused his executive power, causing nearly $17 million in losses for those state-owned companies in exchange for his personal gain of almost $3 million.
The statement added that Ren pleaded guilty, returned his illicit gains and agreed not to appeal upon hearing his verdict.
Known as a member of the powerful so-called Red Second Generation, Ren, 69, is the son of a former deputy commerce minister. He became known in recent years for speaking up about media censorship and other sensitive topics in China.
Outspoken critic of Xi
Ren was detained under criminal investigation in March, shortly after his private comments that criticized Chinaâ€™s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak went viral online.
In a scathing essay, Ren didnâ€™t specify a name but appeared to call Xi â€śa clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor.â€ť
The courtâ€™s verdict on Ren sparked an outcry among dissidents and observers in China and abroad.
Li Datong, founding editor of the China Youth Dailyâ€™s Freezing Point weekly, called it a â€śshamelessâ€ť persecution.
When Ren stepped down from his chairmanship at Huayuan in 2011, â€śthe governmentâ€™s audit body had closely scrutinized the companyâ€™s financial accounts [under Renâ€™s leadership], which it found flawlessâ€¦This [verdict] is a slap on the governmentâ€™s own face,â€ť Li told VOA over the phone.
Li said that he believes Ren pleaded guilty because his son was held hostage by authorities, adding those four charges against Ren were false.
He called Ren an outspoken critic who speaks the mind of the Chinese people.
Ren â€śis someone who dares to talk about whatâ€™s on peopleâ€™s mind. He poses no threat to anyone and no organizations would be toppled because of [free] speech. He did nothing but speaking the mind of the people, which somehow isnâ€™t tolerated by the authorities,â€ť he added.
Wang Dan, former Tiananmen Square protest student leader, tweeted that the sentence is so heavy that Ren is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
â€śIt shows that the Communist Party would only hit its own comrades harder,â€ť Wang wrote, criticizing Xi as â€śsomeone who is too insecure to tolerate any criticism. The Communist partyâ€™s future will be bathed in blood.â€ť
Rising public grievance?
Tseng Chien-yuan, chairman of Taipei-based New School for Democracy, argued that it remains to be seen if the verdict would backfire and trigger public grievance, since Ren has garnered a high level of support among the public and even a certain degree of sympathy among like-minded members in the party.
â€śThe fact that the Communist Party gave him such a heavy sentence further reflects a lack of confidence in the regimeâ€™s stability. Hence, it is using such a heavy sentence to send a warning or intimidate dissidents,â€ť Tseng told VOA over the phone.
Tseng noted that Renâ€™s case would certainly create a chilling effect among Chinese dissidents, but it may also trigger â€śpolitical panicâ€ť among those as outspoken as Ren, who will likely put their own interests before those of the party.
â€śThat will then set the beginning of the collapsing confidence in the Chinese regime,â€ť he added.
Leo Lan, research & advocacy consultant of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), agreed that Renâ€™s verdict will have an immediate impact on the wealthy, along with outspoken businesspeople and party members.
And â€śit looks like Xi Jinping wants to maintain its heavy-handed approach to crack down on dissenting views,â€ť Lan told VOA in a written reply, adding, â€śWe now need to see how the party elites react. Some party elites might still fight back.â€ť
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