Sun Dawu, Outspoken Chinese Tycoon, Sentenced to 18 years

Sun Dawu, Outspoken Chinese Tycoon, Sentenced to 18 years
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Sun Dawu, Outspoken Chinese Tycoon, Sentenced to 18 years

Sun Dawu, Outspoken Chinese Tycoon, Sentenced to 18 years

Sun Dawu, a rural tycoon and outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Wednesday, the latest in a string of harsh sentences inflicted by China on business leaders.

Mr Sun, 67, was arrested in November following a land dispute between his company, the Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, and a nearby state-owned farm. Prosecuted in a closed-door trial with a group of 19 family members and employees, Mr. Sun was convicted of a series of crimes, including organizing people to attack state agencies. , obstruct public affairs and provoke quarrels, among others.

Long a thorn in Beijing’s side, Mr. Sun was a frequent and vocal critic of Chinese government policies, from its early handling of Covid 19 to local government cover-ups during an African swine fever outbreak in 2019 that killed people. thousands of his pigs. He was also a businessman who cultivated an image of generosity. As his agricultural empire grew, he created a city around his farms and offered services, such as hospital care, to employees.

The heavy sentence comes as Chinese leader Xi Jinping struggles to muzzle outspoken business leaders and bring the private sector into line. Under Xi, a growing number of tycoons have been punished, and a barrage of new rules has brought down corporate Goliaths in the tech and education sectors. The shares of some of China’s better-known companies, like Tencent and Didi, collapsed, while an antimonopoly investigation into Alibaba led to a fine of $ 2.8 billion.

Mr. Sun’s 18-year prison term matches that imposed in recent years on two other businessmen. In 2018, Wu Xiaohui, a Chinese tycoon who rose to prominence after buying the Waldorf Astoria hotel, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for defrauding investors. Last year, retired real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang was sentenced to 18 years in prison after calling Mr. Xi a clown in an essay.

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“If it was during wartime, I would have been sacrificed a long time ago,” Sun said in a statement. “With my character, I cannot give others a flattering smile. I can not do it. It condemned my fate, ”he said.

Mr. Sun and several family members described the brutal treatment by the police during months of interrogation that forced what they said to be a false confession. A son said he was tied to a chair for 30 hours until his limbs swelled painfully, while Mr. Sun’s brother described ending up with an untreated hernia.

“My treatment produced misery beyond words, and life was worse than death,” Mr. Sun said, describing how he had not seen the sun for over three months while in detention.

Mr. Sun also asked the Gaobeidian Rural County Court, southwest of Beijing, to acquit the executives of his company who were on trial alongside him, saying all the faults were his. In its verdict, the court only said the employees and his company would be punished, without providing details.

Lawyers for Mr. Sun said in a statement that the remaining 19 defendants were sentenced to terms ranging from one to 12 years in prison. The eagerness and speed with which the court handled the complex case, often postponing the trial beyond 12 hours a day for 14 consecutive days, “showed that this was not a normal trial “, added the lawyers.

While Mr. Sun was best known for his relentless criticism of the Chinese government, he was also renowned for his business acumen. A veteran of the People’s Liberation Army, Mr. Sun worked at the state-owned Agricultural Bank of China before going on his own. From 50 pigs and 1,000 chickens, he and his family started a business that employed thousands of people.

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Mr. Sun also cultivated the image of a civic-minded entrepreneur. As his business grew, he built a town, Dawu Town, which provided services to its growing number of employees and eventually included a 1,000 bed hospital. In the early 2000s, Mr. Sun took his ideas to some of China’s top universities, speaking on behalf of farmers and entrepreneurs.

The speeches annoyed officials and attracted unwanted attention to him. In 2003, he was arrested on charges of illegal fundraising. A group of academics, lawyers and journalists successfully campaigned for his release.

This strife with the law, which brought him fame, stands in stark contrast to this week’s trial. This time, Mr. Sun faced charges in a different kind of China.

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Under Xi, a series of crackdowns on civil society has narrowed the ranks of liberal-minded lawyers and independent journalists. Xu Zhiyong, one of three attorneys who represented Mr. Sun in 2003 and a prominent activist, was arrested last year after urging Mr. Xi to resign, writing to Mr. Xi that “you are not everything. just not smart enough ”.

At the time, Mr. Sun spoke on behalf of Mr. Xu. This time around, there were few people left to defend Mr. Sun, who repeatedly supported the need to tackle power grab and political intimidation.

“When faced with terror, what can ordinary people like us do? Mr. Sun said in a 2015 speech. “Open our eyes in fear and screaming. “

The fate of Mr. Sun’s business remains uncertain. His eldest son and company chairman Sun Meng said through his lawyer that the government appeared to be pushing for a takeover.

“A manager came and told me that the Dawu group needed someone to operate it and recommended me several companies to take over the group,” he said. “I said these companies weren’t even in the same industry; how could they take control of Dawu? “

Among Mr. Sun’s supporters was Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who died in detention in China in 2017. Mr. Liu once said that Mr. Sun was posing a “huge” challenge ”to the Chinese system because it possessed both courage and Resources.

“The government,” Mr. Liu wrote, “will certainly prosecute him with obscure laws. “

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