Chinese farm boss Sun Dawu sentenced to 18 years in jail

BEIJING, July 28 (Reuters) - Chinese billionaire Sun Dawu was sentenced to 18 years in jail on Wednesday for crimes including “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and illegally occupying farmland, a court said, the latest stiff punishment of an outspoken corporate boss.

Sun had built a major conglomerate in the northern Chinese province of Hebei, employing 9,000 people in activities ranging from poultry processing and pet food to hospitals, schools and resorts.

But he was also outspoken on issues including human rights, and was one of the very few people to openly accuse the government of covering up the extent of an African swine fever outbreak, which infected one of his farms in 2019 and later devastated much of the country's industry. [ ]

He had also been embroiled in a land dispute with a local government-owned farm, according to media reports, and was detained with a group of family members and employees last year.

Dawu had said dozens of its employees were injured in a fight with police after they tried to stop the state farm staff tearing down one of its buildings last year.

The People’s Court of Gaobeidian city in Hebei province said on its Wechat account on Wednesday that Sun was guilty of offenses including assembling a crowd to attack state agencies, obstructing government workers from performing their duties, sabotaging production and operations, and illegal mining.

Sun was also fined 3.11 million yuan ($478,697).

Last year, former property executive Ren Zhiqiang was also sentenced to 18 years in prison for graft in what critics at the time called an especially harsh sentence amid an ongoing clampdown on dissent.

Ren had referred to Xi Jinping as “a clown” after a speech the Chinese president made about government efforts to battle the coronavirus.

$1 = 6.4968 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Tony Munroe and Jan Harvey