A former real estate tycoon and an outspoken critic of China’s President Xi Jinping has been sentenced to 18 years in jail on charges of corruption.
A court in Beijing found Ren Zhiqiang “guilty of corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds”, said state media outlet the Global Times.
He will also have to pay a fine of 4.2m yuan (£482,950;$620,000).
Ren went missing in March this year shortly after writing an essay said to be critical of President Xi.
Although it did not directly name President Xi, it was widely believed to be about him.
The Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court said Ren had accepted bribes worth 1.25m and embezzled almost 50m yuan.
He is said to have “voluntarily” confessed to all charges and will not appeal against the decision.
The former chairman of the Hua Yuan Property Company was not merely a business tycoon. The son of a ministry official, he was also known to have close ties with senior party leaders and was in a position from which his criticisms of the party would be particularly potent.
Rights groups have consistently accused China of using corruption charges as a way to clamp down on dissent.
‘Anti-Communist Party’ thoughts
Ren’s sharply critical essay had been about Beijing’s handling of the virus outbreak, and came after a televised speech by President Xi.
He did not directly refer to Mr Xi in his essay, but according to a report in the China Digital Times, said: “I too am curiously and conscientiously studying [the] speech… what I saw [was] not an emperor standing there but a clown.”
Shortly after the essay was published, it was announced that Ren had been put under investigation for “suspected serious disciplinary violations”.
Beijing later announced that he had been expelled from the Communist Party.
- Xi critic’s internet account blocked
This is not the first time Ren, who has been nicknamed “Ren Cannon” for his outspokenness, has had a run in with authorities.
In 2016, China shut down his microblogging accounts after he criticised President Xi.
He had written a Weibo blog that state media was funded by taxpayers and should therefore serve the people instead of the Communist Party.
His post was later criticised by state media, with one referring to him as having “anti-Communist Party” thoughts.