One of China's leading real-estate magnates and a former member of Chinese Communist Party, Ren Zhiqiang, was sentenced to an 18-year prison term for embezzlement, bribery, and illegal amassing of wealth. The verdict was handed down by the Second Intermediate People's Court of Beijing, which claimed that Ren had accepted the charges against him.
However, what makes this case worrying to many China-watchers is the fact that the former head of Huayuan Property Co was one of the few people in the country who dared to criticize Xi Jinping candidly. The 69-year old man had been opposed to Jinping on popular Chinese social media site Weibo for years.
In 2016, he openly criticized Xi Jinping for asking state media to be more loyal to him. Following that outburst, he was suspended from the Communist Party. However, what possibly made him too much of a sore for the Communist regime was an article he penned in March this year, anonymously, where he criticized the country's leader for his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In a rather strongly-worded article, by Chinese standards at least, Zhiqiang described Xi Jinping as "clown with no clothes who was still determined to play emperor," while sarcastically referring to him as "great leader."
There was little doubt that he was the author of that article and in that month itself, he disappeared from public eye. Again, it was widely believed that he had been detained by the authorities of the government.
Soon enough, he was hauled for a trial on charges of accepting bribes worth 1.25 million yuan and illegally diverting 49.7 million yuan into his own possession. Along with these two allegations, he was also accused of embezzlement of public funds, as much as 61.2 million yuan.
However, there were strong reasons for people to be skeptical of these charges. After all, he had quit the chairmanship of Huayuan Property in 2011 and an audit of company finances done just prior to that didn't find anything wrong. The alleged acts of criminality took place, as per the accusations, in the period 2003-2017.
What makes this case even more intriguing is the fact that Ren Zhiqiang was not an outsider but very much a part of the political and economic elite of the country. He is the son of a former leading official in the country's Commerce ministry and counted among the top businessmen in the Communist nation. His decline, caused due to his comments against Xi Jinping, is bound to send a chilling message to the country at large.