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Critic of Chinese President Xi Jinping Sentenced to 18 Years on Corruption Charges

Police officers stand guard at an entrance to Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court

A retired Chinese real estate tycoon who criticized President Xi Jinping over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges.

An announcement Tuesday by Beijing No.2 Intermediate Court said 69-year-old Ren Zhiqiang was found guilty of embezzling as much as $16 million from the state-owned company he once headed, along with bribery and abuse of power that cost the company about $17 million in losses.

The court said Ren had confessed to all the charges and would not appeal his sentence. In addition to his sentence, he was also fined over $600,000.

Ren was detained in March after publishing an essay slamming President Xi over a speech he delivered to 170,000 officials the month before about government efforts to respond to the outbreak, which was first detected in December 2019 in the central city of Wuhan.

The ex-businessman said he “saw not an emperor exhibiting his new clothes, but a clown who stripped off his clothes and insisted on being an emperor,” although he did not mention Xi by name. He also criticized the conference for withholding information about the pandemic and failing to hold anyone responsible.

Ren was expelled by the Communist Party in July, and eventually accused by authorities in Beijing of misusing official funds on personal expenses.

Ren has run afoul of the ruling party in the past after openly criticizing the party over a suppression of free speech and demands for complete party loyalty.