China’s ex-internet tsar pleads guilty to taking bribes

BEIJING: The former head of internet censorship in China, Lu Wei, pleaded guilty to accepting at least 32 million yuan (US$4.6 million) in bribes at a trial Friday.

Lu, who oversaw a tightening of online censorship during his tenure at the Cyberspace Administration of China, was a fierce defender of China’s policy of internet control.

In 2016, he stepped down from his post, and officials announced he was being investigated for suspected disciplinary violations the following year.

According to a post from Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court’s official Weibo account Friday, Lu was charged with accepting bribes from 2002 until late 2017.

Prosecutors said that Lu used his influence and position at various government organisations, including the Cyberspace Administration of China and Xinhua News Agency, to help others in exchange for benefits.

At the end of the trial in Zhejiang province, Lu pleaded guilty and “repented in court”, it said.

The former China internet tsar was once named among the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He also met with several Silicon Valley executives, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who personally welcomed him to the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters in 2014.

Zuckerberg has made several attempts to woo China’s top brass, including President Xi Jinping, as the US social networking site, along with Twitter and Google, remains blocked by China’s “Great Firewall” of online censorship.

Lu is part of a growing group of Communist Party cadres that have been caught in President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign, which critics say has served as a way to remove the president’s political enemies. More than one million officials have been punished so far during Xi’s six-year tenure.

Earlier this month, Meng Hongwei, former Interpol president and vice minister of China’s public security bureau, was accused of accepting bribes, after he disappeared on a visit to China from France, where his wife and children live.

Former security head Zhou Yongkang — who appointed Meng vice security minister in 2004 — was also accused of bribery, as well as abuse of power and leaking state secrets. In 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison.

In February, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection listed more than 20 allegations against Lu on its website, ranging from serious crimes to character flaws.

In an unusually detailed statement, the anti-graft agency accused Lu of “using power for personal gain” and “deceiving the central government” and slammed his “tyrannical” management style.

In addition to China’s online censorship apparatus, Lu held top positions at the Beijing Propaganda department and the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. — AFP

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