China's former Internet czar Lu Wei charged with taking bribes

Lu Wei, China's Minister of the Cyberspace Administration, speaks at the opening ceremony of the first World Internet Conference in Tongxiang, China, on Nov 19, 2014.
Lu Wei, China's Minister of the Cyberspace Administration, speaks at the opening ceremony of the first World Internet Conference in Tongxiang, China, on Nov 19, 2014.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (AFP) - China's former Internet czar, who oversaw a tightening of online censorship during his tenure, has been charged with taking bribes, state media said on Monday (July 30).

Throughout his career, Lu Wei used his political offices to benefit himself including "illegally receiving a huge amount of property", according to the official Xinhua news agency, quoting a statement by the office of the country's top prosecutor.

It said Lu is alleged to have used his position to benefit himself and unspecified other people during his time working at Xinhua, for the Beijing government, for the party's central propaganda department and as the head of the Cyber Administration of China, among other offices.

China's top graft watchdog expelled Lu from the ruling Communist Party in February, issuing an unusually florid statement that accused him of failing to carry out his duties and having a "tyrannical" management style.

Lu was once named among the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine and had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

But in June 2016, he stepped down from his position supervising controls over online expression as head of the Cyberspace Administration of China.

And in November 2017, officials announced he was being investigated for suspected disciplinary violations.

Lu had fiercely defended the country's censorship apparatus after he was appointed in 2013.

He was a powerful figure both at home and abroad, where he commanded the attention of global technology firms eager for a piece of the Chinese market.

Lu was personally received by Zuckerberg in 2014 at Facebook's Silicon Valley headquarters. He appeared in the front row of a group photo alongside top executives from American tech giants such as Amazon and President Xi Jinping when Xi visited the US in 2015.

Facebook is among a number of Western websites, along with Twitter, Instagram and several news outlets, that are blocked by China's "Great Firewall" of Internet censorship.