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Chinese tycoon who criticized Xi Jinping's handling of coronavirus jailed for 18 years

September 22, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

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A Chinese billionaire who criticized President Xi Jinping's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been jailed for 18 years on corruption charges, a court said Tuesday.

(CNN)A Chinese billionaire who criticized President Xi Jinping's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been jailed for 18 years on corruption charges, a court said Tuesday.

Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon with close ties to senior Chinese officials, disappeared in March after he allegedly penned a scathing essay that month criticizing Xi's response to the coronavirus epidemic.

On Tuesday, a court in Beijing found Ren guilty on multiple charges, including embezzling some $16. 3 million (110. 6 million yuan) in public funds, accepting bribes, and abuse of power that caused losses totaling $17. 2 million (116. 7 million yuan) for the state-owned property company that he once headed.

China's court system has a conviction rate of around 99%, according to legal observers, and corruption charges are often used to go after Communist Party insiders who fall afoul of the leadership.

Ren's conviction and heavy sentence appears designed to send a message to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or defiance of Xi will not be tolerated, as Beijing continues to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and faces intense international pressure from Washington and others.

Born into the Communist Party's ruling elite, the 69-year-old Ren had often been outspoken on Chinese politics, far more than is usually allowed in the authoritarian state.

The essay went on to accuse the Communist Party of putting its own interests above the safety of the Chinese people, to secure its rule.

Authorities confirmed Ren was being investigated on corruption related charges in early April, and expelled the longtime member from the Communist Party in July, paving the way for his criminal prosecution.

In 2016, he was disciplined after questioning on social media Xi's demands that Chinese state media must stay absolutely loyal to the party.

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