January 22, 2014
Report: Families of Top Chinese Leaders Concealing Riches Overseas
An investigation by a U.S.-based journalism group suggests the close relatives of China's top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, have set up offshore companies to hide their massive wealth.
The report released Wednesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was based on information from 2.5 million leaked documents showing the identities of the owners of overseas businesses and trusts.
President Xi's brother-in-law and former Premier Wen Jiabao's son were among those named. Close relatives of ex-President Hu Jintao, former Premier Li Peng and late leader Deng Xiaoping were also mentioned as having overseas holdings.
The New York Times and Bloomberg in 2012 published reports saying Mr. Xi's and Mr. Wen's families had accumulated massive fortunes. Beijing promptly blocked the news outlets' websites in China in response.
On Wednesday, Chinese authorities blocked access to the ICIJ website. There has been no official response to the report.
A group of Chinese activists, including Xu Zhiyong, who went on trial Wednesday , have been calling for senior officials to publicly disclose their assets to curb corruption.
But Beiijng-based human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has represented numerous activists, including Ai Wei Wei, thinks the new report will make it even less likely that Beijing will implement new asset declaration rules.
"I believe that what has been exposed would block asset declaration more than before simply because the close relatives of China's top leaders have huge assets in offshore entities that they would want to hide. Therefore it would be more unlikely for them to push forward the measure of assets declaration to the public."
But Shi Yinhong, a scholar at People's University in Beijing, says he is unconvinced about the reliability of the report.
"The voice of the investigative reporters group is nothing but one voice overseas. Is it reliable? I think it is uncertain to say so now. A few years ago, some similar rumors were spread, and it turned out that some of them were not trustworthy, and the reliability of some, were rather low. Furthermore, some were manipulated politically."
The ICIJ report cautioned there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Chinese leaders, and stressed that many may have not known about the financial activities of their families.
But such reports are a potential embarrassment to the Communist Party, which is in the midst of a highly publicized crackdown on rampant corruption within its ranks. Beijing fears widespread public frustration over the hidden, glamorous lives of Chinese leaders could spill over into social unrest.
Though no financial details were given in the ICIJ report, the investigation found 90 percent of the mainland Chinese clients named set up offshore entities in the British Virgin Islands, some with the help of Western companies.
(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.)