Prada, Haleon cuts ties with Chinese star Li Yifeng held in prostitute scandal

Global brands including luxury fashion house Prada SpA and healthcare company Haleon Plc have cut ties with star Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng, who was detained on prostitution charges as the government continues a crackdown on the entertainment industry.

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Li Yifeng- confession, consequence

Li, 35, was arrested by Beijing police on charges of “soliciting prostitution on multiple occasions,” and reportedly confessed to the allegation, according to a Weibo post by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and a report by state-run CCTV.

His detention was followed by a series of international and Chinese companies announcing they have terminated all business relations with the actor, including Prada, where he was a brand ambassador. Sensodyne, a toothpaste unit of UK-based Haleon, and Zhenguoli, a beverage brand of dairy giant China Mengniu Dairy Co., also severed ties with Li.

‘Coercive confessions’

Chinese authorities often tout confessions by the accused in high-profile cases, which the US, UK and other human rights advocates have long cited as evidence of coercion or torture. Some of those cases have involved vice crimes like prostitution, such as American venture capitalist and Weibo opinion-maker Charles Xue, who disappeared in 2013 and was released after state television ran a taped statement in which he admitted to hiring prostitutes.

China has ordered sweeping actions to clean up the entertainment industry, with the broadcast regulator moving to ban film stars with “incorrect” politics, cap salaries and rein in celebrity fan culture. Star pianist Li Yundi was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in October 2021 as part of the wider crackdown on the sector. He hasn’t been seen in public since.

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‘Previously recognized by the authorities’

Li Yifeng was previously recognized by the authorities as he played the role of Mao Zedong in “The Pioneer,” a patriotic movie released in 2021 to celebrate the China Communist Party’s 100th anniversary. He has also appeared in multiple promotion videos for government agencies, including the Ministry of State Security and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

With over 60 million followers on the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform, Li was involved in the boycott of Hugo Boss AG over its pledge not to use cotton produced in Xinjiang over concerns it is made with forced labor by Muslim-minority Uyghurs.

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