Shanghai Propaganda Department Probes TV Hosts' Attendance at Zhou Zhengyi's Party

2021-04-23
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Shanghai Propaganda Department Probes TV Hosts' Attendance at Zhou Zhengyi's Party File photo of businessman Zhou Zhengyi before he began a 16-year jail term for "bribery" and "embezzlement."
Photo: RFA

Propaganda officials in Shanghai are investigating the appearance of several high-profile TV anchors at a recent birthday party for businessman Zhou Zhengyi following his early release from a 16-year jail term for "bribery" and "embezzlement."

Zhou threw a lavish 60th-birthday bash at a five-star hotel on the Bund in Shanghai last weekend, which was attended by several presenters and hosts from state-run Dragon Television.

Video clips from the star-studded event went viral on social media platforms in China, showing Zhou roaming around the venue, taking photos with guests, in obviously high spirits.

The hosts were later reportedly subjected to investigation and punishment from their employers, as the Shanghai branch of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s propaganda department looked into the matter, after viewing the video clips online, according to screenshots seen by RFA.

In a screenshot of a reply to a request for information from the Shanghai branch of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s propaganda department, Dragon TV said six of its presenters and show hosts had attended the glitzy celebration at the Wanda Ruihua hotel on the Bund in Shanghai on Sunday.

They were named as Cheng Lei, Chen Rong, Zhu Zhen, Ni Lin, Fang Haiyan, and Dai Liufei. A seventh presenter, Gao Yuan, was named, but wasn't a Dragon TV employee, it said.

"The hosts charged no fee for their attendance at this event," the message said.

Another screenshot reported that Gao Yuan had discovered they were on an official media blacklist since the party, while another showed an invitee turning down the glitzy invitation for fear of political repercussions.

A Shanghai businesswoman surnamed Zhang said Dragon TV had notified the hosts who did attend that they were "in violation of regulations" to attend Zhou's party.

"They are now saying [to the propaganda department] that the hosts didn't attend as TV hosts, nor did they represent their employer at the function," she said.

Tighter controls under Xi

The Shanghai municipal radio and TV bureau said it would "carry out further investigations," and called on the hosts' employers to "conduct interviews with the hosts in question as soon as possible and correctly handle the matter subsequently."

Zhang said Zhou had likely underestimated the tight political controls now being exerted on public figures under CCP leader Xi Jinping, after spending more than a decade in prison.

"He didn't really read the current political situation right, because it's completely different from before he went into prison," Zhang said.

Zhou's fortune is now largely controlled by his Hong Kong-based wife Mao Yuping, Zhang said.

"Zhou's wife helped him hang onto the fortune; she's now in Hong Kong," she said. "He will have been well-treated in prison."

Zhou, who served 13 years of his prison term, recently took a job as "adviser" to a cosmetics and skincare company in Shanghai.

Known in Hong Kong as Chau Ching-ngai, where he is wanted by the city's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Zhou was once Shanghai’s richest man and the 11th richest in mainland China, with an estimated fortune of U.S.$320 million from property development and stock market speculation.

Zhou's case was linked to the downfall of former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu, who is currently serving an 18-year jail term for misuse of Shanghai's social security fund.

Hong Kong's ICAC wants to question him in connection with fraud allegations linked to publicly listed companies there.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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