Beijing (CNN)China’s former internet czar has become the latest senior official caught in President Xi Jinping’s massive anti-corruption dragnet.
Lu Wei, who headed the country’s powerful cyber administration until June 2016, was placed “under investigation for suspected serious violations of discipline,” a euphemism typically used to signify corruption, the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary arm announced in a one-line statement Tuesday.
During his three-year tenure, Lu quickly became the face of the so-called Great Firewall, China’s increasingly extensive and sophisticated internet filtering and censorship system that has blocked some of the world’s most popular online services, including Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Time magazine in 2015 named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people, saying: “Whatever he does, the gregarious former propaganda chief is certain to affect the lives of billions.”
Lu’s downfall came less than two weeks before the opening of the annual World Internet Conference, a state-sponsored gathering of government officials and industry leaders in eastern China. It was often viewed as Lu’s brainchild aimed at validating China’s controversial cyber policy on the global stage.
Shortly after the first World Internet Conference in 2014, Lu was seen touring the Facebook campus in the United States — and photos showing CEO Mark Zuckerberg schmoozing with the man responsible for banning Facebook in China went viral.
Despite the charm offensives by Zuckerberg and others in Silicon Valley, Lu remained a staunch defender of the Great Firewall, brushing off criticism that he was turning the internet into an intranet in China.
“If we really censor the internet, how come our internet user population and their reliance on the internet keep growing?” he shot back at at a rare press conference in 2015, ahead of the second World Internet Conference.
“We don’t welcome those who come to China to make money while smearing China,” he said. “As long as you don’t harm China’s national interests… we welcome you and your growth in China.”
Lu, 57, was a vice mayor of Beijing before being named the country’s top internet regulator in 2013. He started his career as a journalist, and rose through the ranks at the state-run Xinhua news agency in the late 1990s and 2000s.
On Wednesday, Xinhua published a harshly worded commentary written by the staff of the party’s disciplinary arm, highlighting the fact that Lu — holding the rank of a minister — was the first senior official to fall after Xi further consolidated power at the recently concluded party congress.
“We should never be smug about our past accomplishments… and must firmly push forward our fight against corruption,” it said. “The investigation into Lu is the best proof for such determination and resolve.”