Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of the state-owned real estate company Huayuan Group, disappeared from public view on 12 March after calling China’s leader a “clown”.
On Thursday night the party’s internal watchdog in Beijing announced that the 69-year-old would be prosecuted for embezzlement, taking bribes and abusing his position.
Mr Ren is known as “Cannon Ren” for his outspoken views about the government and was described by the BBC in 2015 as ‘China’s Donald Trump’. In 2016 he was placed on probation by the party after being accused of violating “political discipline”.
After Mr Xi held a video conference with 170,000 officials on 23 February to announce his response to the pandemic, Mr Ren published an essay accusing the government of trying to cover up the early stages of the outbreak.
“People did not see any criticism at the conference. It didn’t investigate and disclose the truth,” Mr Ren wrote, according to a copy published by China Digital Times. “No one reviewed or took responsibility. But they are trying to cover up the truth with all kinds of great achievements.”
Mr Ren did not mention Mr Xi by name but said: “Standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes but a clown who had stripped off his clothes and insisted on being an emperor.”
He also criticised propaganda that portrayed Mr Xi and other leaders as rescuing China from coronavirus without mentioning where it began.
The Discipline Inspection Commission in Beijing said in a statement that Mr Ren had “publicly published articles opposing the four basic principles” of the Communist Party.
He also “vilified the image of the party and the country, distorted party and military history, and was not loyal to the party”, it added.
Mr Ren was further accused of illegally using public funds for eating and drinking and to purchase golf handicap cards.
“Ren Zhiqiang seriously violated the party’s political discipline, organisational discipline, integrity discipline, work discipline, and life discipline, constituted a serious job violation and was suspected of corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds, and state-owned company personnel abuse of power,” the commission added.
Mr Xi has suppressed criticism and tightened censorship since becoming ruling party leader in 2012 and dozens of journalists and human rights activists have been imprisoned.
Additional reporting by Associated Press