July 23, 2020 / 3:37 PM / 19 days ago

Former Chinese property executive who criticised Xi over virus ousted from ruling party

BEIJING (Reuters) - An influential former Chinese property executive and critic of President Xi Jinping has been ousted from China’s ruling Communist Party, a notice from the Beijing district government showed Thursday.

Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of state-controlled property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group, had called Xi a “clown” over a speech he made in February about government efforts to battle the coronavirus.

Ren went missing in March, three of his friends told Reuters at the time. Beijing’s municipal anti-corruption watchdog later said he was under investigation for a “serious disciplinary violation”.

In a notice on Thursday night, the watchdog said Ren had been ousted from the Chinese Communist Party because he was in “severe violation of discipline and law”.

It accused Ren of “losing faith”, “not being aligned with the party on important matters of principle”, “vilifying the image of party and country” and being disloyal and dishonest to the party.

According to the notice, Ren also used official funds on golf expenses, used office and residential spaces provided for free by businessmen, and unlawfully earned huge profits.

Ren’s “unlawful gains” have been confiscated and he will be charged in court, the notice said.

The notice made no mention of the article in which Ren also said a lack of free press and speech had prevented the coronavirus outbreak from being tackled sooner, causing the situation to worsen.

Ren, who gained the nickname “Cannon Ren” for previous critiques posted on social media, was put on probation from the party for a year in 2016 as part of a punishment for publicly criticizing government policy.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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