20 March 2019
Chinese leader Xi Jinping finds himself the focus of the kind of attention he doesn't need. Photo: Xinhua
Chinese leader Xi Jinping finds himself the focus of the kind of attention he doesn't need. Photo: Xinhua

Xi among world leaders named in hidden wealth leak

Politicians, celebrities, sports stars and hoodlums from more than 200 countries have been identified in the Panama Papers — a giant leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposing a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, hidden by secretive offshore companies.

Among hundreds of thousands of clients named, those exposed in the leak include the family of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s best friend, the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, shady characters doing business with Mexican drug lords and rogue nations like North Korea and Iran, martial arts star Jackie Chan and Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi.

Xi, in the midst of an unprecedented campaign targeting Communist Party, government, military and state-owned company officials suspected of corruption, now finds himself embarrassed and the focus of the kind of attention he doesn’t need.

Xi’s brother-in-law Deng Jiagui set up two British Virgin Islands companies in 2009 when his famous relation was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee but not yet president.

An investigative report by Michael Forsythe for Bloomberg News in 2012 suggested that Deng and his wife had hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate, share holdings and other assets.

The Panama Papers also identify Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan, both current members of the Politburo Standing Committee, as using offshore tax havens to conceal their fortunes.

The documents also implicate the daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, Li Xiaolin.

Referred to as China’s “Power Queen”, she is currently vice-president of the China Datang Corporation, a state-owned power generation enterprise, and the former chief executive of China Power International Development, according to Newsweek.

Another big name singled out in the report is former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, now serving a life sentence for corruption, according to Quartz.

It is not illegal for Chinese nationals to set up offshore companies, noted the BBC.

However, China’s Communist officials are discouraged from profiting from their ruling positions and their family members are not supposed to profit from their ties, according to the party’s constitution.

That said, establishing stakes in offshore firms is often a way for the unscrupulously rich and powerful to mask illegal activities, including money laundering and tax evasion.

Countries with comparatively solid legal systems and multiple checks on the powerful will be motivated to use the documents to strike at those implicated; opaque and more corrupt countries and groups won’t, said a Reuters editorial.

Australia, for one, already has said it is investigating hundreds of people named in the documents.

In the UK, there’s already talk of an investigation and crackdown on offshore tax havens, as it was revealed that Prime Minister David Cameron’s late father, Ian Cameron, allegedly ran an offshore fund that paid nothing in tax to the country for three decades.

Wobbly and murky regimes like those in Ukraine may suffer some consequences, too. Any significant fallout in Russia would be a surprise.

The same is true for China, where the majority of citizens will never catch wind of the scandal.

News outlets and social media are heavily censored by the Communist government, and the explosive findings are currently nowhere to be found, with most traces scrubbed into oblivion.

The Free Weibo monitoring website showed that “Panama” and “Panama files” were the top and third-most popular searches on the Chinese social network on Monday morning but both terms are now blocked.

According to Newsweek, users of Sina Weibo and WeChat have seen hundreds of posts deleted in relation to the anonymous leak from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the result of a long-term investigation by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The BBC found that 481 discussions on Weibo related to the Panama Papers had been deleted.

Searches for the term “Panama Papers” on major Chinese search engines like Baidu returned heavily filtered results accompanied with a customary notice displayed whenever a search deemed too sensitive or subversive is made: “According to relevant laws and regulations, some of the search results are not shown,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The treasure trove of revelations come two years after an ICIJ investigation identified nearly 22,000 offshore clients from mainland China and Hong Kong, including relatives of former president Hu Jintao, former premier Li Peng and late leader Deng Xiaoping, the man credited with opening up China’s economy in the 1980s, said Agence France-Presse.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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