At one point a few years ago, China’s then-chief internet regulator, Lu Wei, was so powerful that Time magazine felt justified in listing him as one of the most influential people in the world in 2015. But when the powerful fall, they fall hard.
This week, Lu Wei, the former head of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption after having been found guilty of taking bribes by the Ningbo People's Intermediate Court in the eastern province of Zhejiang, as reported by the official Xinhua Agency.
Wei has been convicted for accepting some 32 million yuan ($4.6 million) from companies and individuals seeking help with regulatory issues and promoting their businesses online.
In October, he pleaded guilty to corruption charges after being accused of abusing his power in various government posts for over a decade and a half, including with the CAC.
The 14-year prison sentence was considered lenient because, according to the court, Lu “confessed his crimes and expressed repentance”.
How powerful was he, exactly?
He was the internet king of China, and the “cleaner” of everything digital. So, it was through him that the government blocked foreign media platforms and censored anything considered to be a threat to stability--including Google’s main search engine.
He was also responsible for basically policing the internet, including regulations on instant-messaging applications and user profiles, “management” of online comments and conducting official inquiries into tech companies.
In other words, Lu was a high-level propaganda official in charge of the CAC since it’s formation in 2014. That put him in charge of 800 million users and all the tech companies involved.
But in June 2016, things went sour and he was abruptly removed from his position in what would end up being the first high-ranking corruption target since Xi took over the head of the Chinese Communist Party. He was summarily expelled from the Party and accused of disloyalty, duplicity and a total lack of self-control, including accusations that he traded power for sex.
According to the court, Wei received illicit assets from government units and individuals worth more than $5 million between 2002 and 2017--all of which has been confiscated.
Lu accepted the verdict and launched no appeal, assuming an air of repentance.
“I have made serious, unforgivable mistakes in politics, finance, work, and life, and totally abandoned the basic principles and the bottom line of a Communist Party member,” wrote Lu in his confession letter in honor of China’s reform and opening up last November.
All of this brings his earlier comments as internet king into clearer view, when he parroted the Party line in the past, saying: “Indeed, we do not welcome those that make money off China, occupy China’s market, even as they slander China’s people. These kinds of websites I definitely will not allow in my house.”
By David Craggen for conil.me