The author of a groundbreaking New York Times story on links between China's top leaders and a multi-billion-dollar company says he started his year-long investigation by looking first at the corporation, Wanda Commercial Properties, and connecting it back to senior officials.
In an interview with VOA's Mandarin service, Michael Forsythe said after he discovered the names of investors for Wang Jianlin's corporation, he started looking into the annual reports of investment companies to find links to family members of senior officials, including the sister of President Xi Jinping.
He says that what he discovered is that many of the family members have in recent years transferred their sizeable shares in Wanda to third parties who are no relation to the senior official but are employees or close associates of the family.
Forsythe said in many ways, the investigation process is even easier than it is in the United States because Beijing keeps better records, including information on companies before they are listed for public trading.
“Chinese companies’ materials are very comprehensive. On the website you can get some companies’ annual reports, and the report from the Industrial and Commercial Bureau in China. We use the materials of companies we found from the website to prove these people’s wealth. ... [But] we need to interview people, to prove the relationship.”
He said his research led him in one case to Pan Yongbin who lives in a modest apartment and does not appear to be wealthy, even though he legally owns tens of millions of dollars in Wanda shares.
“[Former Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference head] Jia Qinlin’s son-in-law, Li Botan, a person named Pan Yongbin worked for him. I interviewed Pan when I was in Beijing," said Forsythe. "He is a very simple person. He said he is now in poor health. He lives at home. However, all the Wanda shares of Li are now under Pan’s name. He has 32 million shares of Wanda. Now it should exceed $200 million. Such a wealthy person only lives in a common apartment at Beijing, and his attitude is completely a worker's attitude, but he is legally very rich.”
Most of the individuals detailed in his report were allowed to make investments in Wanda that grew as much as 10 times larger between 2009 and 2013, leaving the families of party officials very rich. The investment opportunities, which were not available to the general public, have become public during President Xi's high profile anti-corruption campaign.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of lower ranking Communist Party officials have been investigated and, in some cases, punished for acts of corruption. However, it is not clear if the campaign will extend to all officials or will focus on those believed to belong to Communist Party factions that are rivals of Mr. Xi.
The government in Beijing has not directly commented on The New York Times report. But in the past, official Chinese media reports have said western articles about the wealth of China's leaders are based on information fed by opponents of the Communist Party. However, Forsythe said his report was not assisted by any anti-communist groups or individuals.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.