Sun Dawu, one of China’s most prominent rural businessmen, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Wednesday as part of a broader effort by Chinese officials to restrain powerful businessmen and reduce the influence of private business.
The billionaire pig farmer has been convicted of eight counts by the Gaobeidian District People’s Court in Hebei Province. The charges include mobilizing people to attack government agencies, collecting illegal money and “causing unrest”.
Nineteen Sun Sun family members and staff members were given short terms, ranging from 15 months to 12 years. A meeting of the Sun Dawu Agriculture and Livestock group was fined $ 480,000.
The Sun’s legal team declined to comment on the case, saying it was too politically sensitive. The lawyer spoke of the fear of losing his legal license if asked by the NPR.
The Sun case stems from a minor dispute over land and a neighboring farm that turned violent last summer. Dawu Group staff tried to seek help from area managers to resolve the dispute. But in November, officers detained more than two relatives and employees of the Sun, keeping them under some form of house confidentiality for more than five months until they were formally charged.
They described the brutal conditions. “There were no windows in the designated area of the housing monitor and the lights were on 24 hours a day, making it possible to distinguish between day and night,” said Jin Fengyu, deputy director of Dawu Group, according to a statement from the security services. Sun. “The camera was watching me and because of the lack of privacy, I could never take a shower right away.”
It has not been a good year for private companies in China. The most valuable technology companies in the country are facing new regulations that severely limit the scope of their operations. Meanwhile, thousands of small and medium-sized private businesses have been caught in a three-year anti-corruption campaign that lawmakers say has caught many innocent businessmen.
Sun, a 67-year-old social justice advocate and a staunch advocate for rural development, had once enjoyed a prominent political figure. Prominent Chinese universities have invited him to teach on rural land reform and entrepreneurship. Scholars and political activists regularly stood at his company headquarters. Senior political leaders have asked him for advice on increasing rural incomes. Over the years, he has also highlighted the legal fees of prominent human rights lawyers.
The rich man’s idea prompted him to fund his hospital and school system, providing many services from 9,000 Dawu Group staff and their families.
These social services were the basis of one of the charges against him – money laundering. Authorities say the Dawu Group has fraudulently borrowed $ 104 billion from employees and relatives since 2003. Sun has denied the allegations.
The Dawu Group did not have easy access to credit, highlighting the legal difficulties faced by rural traders. The ruling Communist Party of China does not allow the sale of rural land or its use as collateral when obtaining bank loans, forcing rural traders to turn to personal loans or wealth.
Last year, the government took over the activities of the Dawu Group, and many of its leaders are now in prison.
During the 12-day Sun trial this month, police barred journalists from attending. Few spectators were allowed to enter the courtroom despite an earlier assurance that parents and staff could attend.
Locked outside the court, some staff members quietly celebrated Sun’s birthday, which according to the lunar calendar fell on July 15 – the same day his trial began.