A Chinese real-estate tycoon and critic of China Communist Party was sentenced to 18 years in jail over alleged corruption charges, local Chinese media reported on Tuesday.

Ren Zhiqiang, 69, who has been a vocal critic of the party leadership, was sentenced by a local court in Beijing and also imposed a fine of 4.2 million yuan ($618,492), according to Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post.

The move came following Zhiqiang’s article where he had criticized the government for mishandling of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

According to Chinese investigators, Zhiqiang was found to have taken advantage of his position to embezzle more than 49.74 million yuan ($7.32 million) from public funds from 2003-2017, SCMP quoted a statement issued by the local court.

The court in its ruling concluded that the property tycoon had abused his power, resulting in the losses of millions of yuan to the state-owned companies.

“[Zhiqiang] has voluntarily confessed his crimes, admitted to all the accusations against him as presented [in court], and voluntarily accepted the court’s judgment,” said the court.

Earlier Zhiqiang was a member of the Communist Party but his outspoken criticism of the leadership earned him the nickname “Ren the Big Cannon”.

He was slammed by state media in 2016 for “pursuing western constitutionalism”, according to the report.

*Writing by Islamuddin Sajid

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