China’s former internet czar, Lu Wei — the architect of the country’s “Great Firewall” online censorship program – pleaded guilty to corruption charges in a court in in the eastern city of Ningbo on Friday.

Lu Wei

Lu Wei, once one of the most powerful men in the world according to Time Magazine, expresses remorse for his “crimes” in a Chinese courtroom on Friday. (Image: South China Morning Post)

Once named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people on earth, Lu held sway over the minds of a quarter of the world’s internet users – some 700 million people — dictating what could and couldn’t view.

Before he was arrested and expelled from the Party in February, he was a champion of the right of governments to control domestic cyberspace, shaping Chinese policy on the censorship of gambling, pornography and politics, and one of President Xi Jinping’s inner circle.

Today, the man who was courted by international tech leaders like Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, expressed remorse for accepting huge bribes and abusing his power.

‘Two-Faced Person’

Prosecutors accuse Lu of advancing the interests of individuals and organizations in return for kickbacks totaling some $4.6 million, and of trading power for sex. They have not disclosed names of the beneficiaries of Lu’s alleged corruption spree.

In February, the Politburo’s political watchdog described him as a “typical two-faced person” who had “lost his ideals and beliefs.”

President Xi’s ongoing anti-graft campaign is the biggest corruption in the country’s history.

Corruption is endemic in Chinese society, but critics say the government is using it as a convenient pretext to orchestrate political purges, as Xi consolidates power and sidelines rivals. Over 100,000 people have been indicted since Xi’s rise to power in 2012.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “convictions in high-profile trials are typically foregone conclusions, defendants are expected to express remorse to get any leniency in sentencing.”

Interpol Chief Also Held on Graft Charges

In 2014, the crackdown turned to Macau. Beijing tightened controls on the movement of money into the gambling hub and squeezed the junket industry that facilitated trips from the mainland for Chinese big-spenders — some of whom were suspected corrupt party officials. This policy kick-started a two-year revenue slump for the world’s biggest casino market.

Lu was the first major Chinese political figure to be undone by the campaign. However, last week, Chinese officials admitted they had detained the president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, who was formerly China’s vice minister of public security.

Meng was reported missing by his wife in September, shortly after landing in China on a flight from Stockholm.

The Interpol chief once spearheaded Xi’s fight against graft — now he, too, faces unspecified corruption charges due to a “willfulness and for bringing trouble upon himself,” according to the Party’s political watchdog.