Panama Papers: China describes revelations about its leaders as ‘groundless’

State media still largely ignoring the investigations into families of senior party leaders

The families of some of China’s  communist party leaders including President Xi Jinping (above) have used offshore tax havens to conceal their fortunes, the Panama Papers have revelaed. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

The families of some of China’s communist party leaders including President Xi Jinping (above) have used offshore tax havens to conceal their fortunes, the Panama Papers have revelaed. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Chinese government has described as “groundless” accusations in the Panama Papers that the families of senior Communist Party leaders, including president Xi Jinping, had links to offshore firms.

“For these groundless accusations, I have no comment,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news briefing.

State media are steadfastly ignoring reports on the investigations, in which China has featured prominently, as has Hong Kong. The latter appears to have acted as a channel for many of the listings of offshore shell companies.

Corrupt Chinese cadres tend to go via Hong Kong, to get their money out of China. This is a key challenge but about 18,000 Chinese officials have fled overseas over the past two decades. The illicit money taken away by them is more than 800 billion yuan (€ 109 billion).

Nearly one-quarter of Mossack Fonseca’s 34 overseas offices are in China.

Although there has been no further official comment nor mention in the official media, the Global Times newspaper’s English edition, which is part of the stable that publishes the People’s Daily, the official organ of the Communist Party, condemned the Panama Papers as a western conspiracy.

Chinese censors have restricted access to coverage of the leaked documents. The documents show offshore dealings by the families of Mr Xi and other Communist Party leaders, and search results of websites and social media related to the Panama Papers are blocked.

Members of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which includes The Irish Times, have spent more than a year examining a cache of 11.5 million documents and records from Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, one the biggest providers of offshore services to individuals, companies and middle men who advise them.

“Information that is negative to the US can always be minimised, while exposure of non-western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin,” the editorial said. State media make no mention of the reports of offshore dealings of the party elite, and the news is censored on social media.

No evidence has emerged of a direct link between Mr Xi and illegal business dealings. Like most of the senior leadership in China, he would have been ring-fenced from commercial dealings years before he began his ascent to the top leadership.

Mr Xi has also orchestrated a vast anti-corruption campaign, which has punished over 300,000 party officials and made him hugely popular in China.

A Bloomberg report in 2012 linked Mr Xi’s family to lucrative business holdings, but did not mention offshore accounts, and it was not reported in China.

Even though media access is blocked, stories get around by word of mouth and news that the president’s family profited from his position is unlikely to do his public image much, if any, harm.

In all, the mass leak of documents names families or associates of seven current or former senior party figures, including Mr Xi’s brother-in-law Deng Jiagui; Li Xiaolin, daughter of former premier Li Peng; ex-standing committee of the politburo members Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan; and politburo leader Jia Qinglin.

The documents also list the French architect Patrick Henri Devillers, who was linked to disgraced former party star Bo Xilai through his business dealings with Mr Bo’s wife Gu Kailai.