March 26, 2019 / 11:28 AM / 8 months ago

China jails former internet regulator for 14 years over graft

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Tuesday jailed the former chief internet regulator, Lu Wei, for 14 years, having found the once influential official guilty of taking bribes worth almost $5 million.

FILE PHOTO: Lu Wei, head of Cyberspace Administration of China, attends a news conference in Beijing, China December 9, 2015. Picture taken December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Lu, one of numerous senior officials caught up in President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-graft campaign, had already been expelled from the ruling Communist Party, which tightly controls the courts.

At the height of his influence, Lu, a colorful and often brash official by Chinese standards, was seen as emblematic of pervasive internet controls, although his downfall has not brought a reversal of those policies.

The court, in the eastern city of Ningbo, said in a statement that Lu had accepted the verdict and would not appeal.

Lu, 59, pleaded guilty in October after prosecutors had accused him of abusing his power in various government posts over 15 years, including as the head of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

Between 2002 and 2017, he received illicit assets from government units or individuals worth more than 32 million yuan ($4.77 million), the court said in the statement.

He had “shown repentance” and “actively returned” most of the money and property, it added.

Reuters could not reach Lu in jail to seek comment, and it is unclear who acts as his lawyer.

Lu worked his way up though China’s official Xinhua news agency before becoming head of propaganda in Beijing and then moving to internet work in 2013. He became a deputy propaganda minister after being replaced at the internet regulator.

Under Lu, the regulator did not carry out Xi’s instructions in a timely or resolute fashion, China’s anti-corruption watchdog has said.

The government blocks websites it deems a challenge to party rule or a threat to stability, from foreign social media platforms and news outlets to sites such as Google’s main search engine and Gmail service.

Organisers of China’s first World Internet Conference in 2014, set up under Lu to promote Beijing’s vision of internet governance, irked foreign tech firms by seeking their agreement on a last-minute declaration on “internet sovereignty”.

Tech industry representatives declined to sign, and rights groups condemned it as a bid to undermine internet freedom.

When Lu visited Facebook Inc’s U.S. campus in 2014, he was greeted in Mandarin by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social networking site that has long been blocked in China, a Chinese government website has said.

Lu had vociferously defended China’s internet curbs. In 2015, he told reporters: “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.”

Reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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