Liberal blogger Li Chengpeng to sue Global Times for linking him to 'mafia' businessman

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 3:36pm

Li Chengpeng, a former soccer commentator and influential liberal blogger, said he was ready to take the Global Times newspaper to court after the nationalist daily implied on social media that he had connections with Liu Han, a Sichuan mining tycoon who was charged with running a mafia-style gang this week.

The newspaper's allegation centres on Li's flattering article on a school funded by Liu that survived an earthquake in Sichuan. The paper insinuated that the favourable portrait he gave Liu's work hinted at deeper ties between the two.

It is believed that Liu's case, described by the state news agency as the largest prosecution of a criminal gang by mainland authorities in recent years, is connected to the wider corruption probe into associates of retired security tsar Zhou Yongkang.

Liu, a well-known businessman in Sichuan who headed Sichuan Hanlong group, received favorable media coverage, including in Xinhua and Global Times, in 2008 after a school he helped build survived the devastating Sichuan earthquake while many others around collapsed.

Li visited Beichuan, one of the worst-hit regions, to aid survivors after the earthquake.

After finding out that all 486 students at Liu's school had survived, Li tracked down the Hanlong employee who oversaw the construction and included their conversations in his blog story, "The truth behind the zero-fatality miracle of Beichuan's Liu Han school".

Li said the employee chose not to be identified, and was designated "Mr X" in the blog post at the time. The person's name was later revealed as "Gou Yandong".

In a weibo post published on Thursday, hours after news of Liu's prosecution was announced, Global Times Commentary, a  verified Sina Weibo account run by the Global Times, picked up Li's 2008 article and linked it to Liu Han's downfall. 

"The 5,000-word blog article, embedded with photos and graphics, was apparently done with great effort. Li wrote it in a very sensational manner ... and only till now do we know the true reason why [the person] wouldn't want his name be disclosed."

Global Times has since been deleted this post.

Li, who seemed shocked and infuriated by this attack, fiercely defended himself on Sina Weibo.

"Global Times attacked me with zero logic. My article praised Gou Yandong for doing a good job monitoring the construction of the school, which ended up saving the lives of students," he said.

Li also pointed out that the same story was reported by many government-owned newspapers, and he had found out about it through a Sichuan local newspaper.

On Thursday evening, Li wrote on Weibo that he was already talking with lawyers and would "definitely" bring a legal suit against Global Times.

Writers and senior bloggers, including some of Li's close friends, also joined Li in refuting implied messages sent by the Global Times.

Many posted screenshots of positive stories of Liu government-owned newspapers ran following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Images and story links shared online showed that Global Times' website  had at least run two positive stories on how Liu's school survived the 2008 earthqake. The Xinhua state news agency also published a similar story on its website, with headline "School unscathed after the 8.0-scale earthquake, netizens praise the builder."

"Just because Liu Han was accused of running a gang, now the school he built is also part of the evidence of his crimes? And Li Chengpeng was involved with Liu simply because he praised the quality of the school?" Tian You, a Chinese writer, wrote on his blog.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, admitted in a Weibo post published on early Saturday morning that he had ordered the post to be deleted.

"I just learned that our Weibo editor had seriously offended Li. I didn't get the chance to figure out the details," he said. "But I think we should be very cautious when criticising others "

Phones calls made to Li Chengpeng on Friday went unanswered.