The former face of China’s “Great Firewall,” Lu Wei, has become the first “tiger” to come under the Communist Party’s corruption investigation since President Xi Jinping began his second term last month.
Analysts say the graft probe into Lu’s corruption practices is widely believed to be legitimate and long overdue.
But Lu’s downfall has highlighted the simmering discontent among the country’s netizens, many of whom have been frustrated with tougher internet regulations imposed by him.
It has also made a mockery of so-called Xi Praise, a flattery culture centering on the building of the Xi cult, analysts add.
Late Tuesday, China’s top anti-corruption agency announced on its website that 57-year-old Lu, who formerly served as deputy chief of the party propaganda department, has been detained in an internal graft probe.
Along with six of his colleagues and family members, Lu was reportedly taken away by investigators late last week.
Lu, who served as the head of China’s cyberspace administration between 2013 and 2016, was the key person in implementing Xi’s cyberspace policies.
In that role, he wielded great power over what the country’s 730 million internet users could access and acted as the gatekeeper for foreign technology companies seeking to enter the Chinese market.
Because of that, Time magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2015. But his political career ended when he was stripped of the title as China’s internet censor and was replaced by Xu Lin, a Xi protégé, in June 2016.
“Actually, he ceased to be a tiger long ago. He’s not a fly, but he’s now just a cat instead of a tiger because he already lost his power in June 2016,” Hong Kong-based China watcher Willy Lam told VOA.
In one of its two other statements, China’s anti-graft body Wednesday explained why Lu became the first tiger under graft investigation after the party’s 19th National Congress.
The cyberspace administration with Lu at the helm was found to have not been staunch enough in executing Xi’s instructions, lacked political responsibility and integrity while being operated by a network of small circles, the statement said.
The other statement warned not to “expect [criminal] offenses of bygone will be bygone today, lessons learned from the fall of Lu Wei.” No details about Lu’s corruption offenses were revealed.
Chinese media reported that investigators would be mainly looking into corruption charges against Lu during the period when he worked for state-run Xinhua News Agency from 1991 and 2011.
Media speculation is also rife that Lu had angered Xi when the top leader discovered that the former internet censor had hired foreigners to masquerade as CEOs of multinational tech companies attending the World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, in 2014.