China probes former chief of internet regulator for suspected graft

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2017 8:17 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - The former head of China's powerful internet regulator is under investigation for suspected corruption, the ruling Communist Party said, the latest senior official to be caught up in a sweeping campaign against graft.

Lu Wei was suspected of serious discipline breaches, the party's corruption-busting Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement late on Tuesday, using a common euphemism for graft.

It gave no other details. Reuters was unable to reach Lu or a representative to seek comment.

At the height of his influence, Lu, a colorful and often brash official by Chinese standards, was seen as emblematic of China's increasingly pervasive internet controls.

Organizers 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 ultimately declined to sign the pledge, and the move was condemned by rights groups as an attempt to undermine internet freedoms.

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."

But courting China's powerful internet regulator was a key task for companies hoping to stay in his good graces or gain access to the huge internet market.

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

But Lu's downfall, foreshadowed by his June 2016 replacement as head of the internet regulator and the loss of his other posts, is unlikely to signal a reversal of internet control policies, which have tightened further under successor Xu Lin.

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.

The government has blocked sites it deems could challenge Communist Party rule or threaten stability, including popular Western sites such as Facebook and Google's main search engine and Gmail service.

President Xi Jinping has waged war against deep-rooted corruption since taking office five years ago, jailing or meting out lesser punishments to hundreds of thousands of officials.

In a separate statement, the commission said the investigation into Lu showed the party's determination to tackle corruption.

"Managing and governing the party won't rest for a moment," it wrote, shortly after the announcement on Lu. "The serious and complex state of the anti-corruption struggle has not changed."

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Richard Pullin)