BEIJING - China's double Olympic swimming champion Sun Yang was sentenced to seven days in police detention Monday for driving without a licence after a Porsche Cayenne he was steering was in collision with a bus.
Police in the eastern city of Hangzhou decided to put Sun, a huge star in China after winning the 400m and 1500m freestyle golds at London 2012, under "administrative detention" for seven days, the state-run Legal Daily reported.
Under Chinese law, the punishment is applied to those declared by police to be guilty of minor offences. There is no trial.
The 21-year-old swimmer admitted the offence in a post on his verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, earlier on Monday.
Reports said the white luxury vehicle he was driving - which he said was borrowed from a relative - was rear-ended by a bus in the eastern city of Hangzhou, but Internet users reacted angrily.
"The incident has caused enormous impact on society and the public," said Sun's post. "I'm deeply sorry and will reflect profoundly on it."
He added that the "mistake" was due to his "meagre knowledge of the law" because he had been "busy with training".
But his apology provoked a furious response, with Chinese Internet users blasting his behaviour as endangering others' lives, and him for trying to underplay its seriousness.
"As a public figure, how dare he to beg for forgiveness after making such a wilful mistake by treating other people's lives as a joke?" wrote one Sina Weibo user.
Other users pointed out that it was "common sense" that driving without a licence was illegal.
"Did you only get a diploma from a kindergarten? Even primary school students know that you need to have a licence to drive a car," said a poster with the username Expired Yogurt.
Driving rules and traffic laws are widely flouted in China, where violations of the rules of the road by the rich or powerful are particularly sensitive.
Administrative detention in China differs from laojiao, the widely loathed "re-education through labour" system, in that the maximum term is 15 days rather than three years, and the custodial regime is less severe.
Sun was also fined, the Legal Daily report said, without specifying an amount. Those who drive without a licence can normally be fined up to 2,000 yuan (S$407), previous Chinese media reports said.
Hangzhou police said the punishment meted out to Sun was based on the way similar cases in the city had been handled over the past three years and was "unbiased", according to the Legal Daily.
"It showed that everyone is equal before the law," it quoted Song Xiaochun, a senior police officer in the city, as saying.
Sun endorsed a Hyundai SUV at the end of last year and once said openly that he had yet to get a driving licence, the respected news magazine Caijing reported Monday.
He was spotted driving an Audi sports car in September, it added.