China blocks 'New York Times' website over Wen wealth report

Sat, Oct 27, 2012, 01:00

CHINA HAS angrily denounced a report saying that premier Wen Jiabao’s family has built up vast riches, accusing the New York Times of smearing China and blocking the newspaper’s English and Chinese websites.

The report says Mr Wen’s extended family “have controlled assets worth at least” €2.1 billion through a network of investments since he came to power in 2002. It comes just weeks before Mr Wen is due to stand down at a party congress in November.

“Some reports blacken China and have ulterior motives,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing, without elaborating.

Asked about the decision to block the website, Mr Hong said the internet was managed “in accordance with laws”.

The report comes at a fraught time in Chinese political life in the run-up to a once-in-a-decade leadership transition at the 18th Communist Party congress on November 8th.

The Chinese parliament yesterday stripped purged former supremo Bo Xilai of his last official position by formally expelling him from the country’s top legislature. This clears they way to put the former Chongqing boss on trial.

Mr Wen has carefully cultivated an image as “Grandad Wen”, a grandfatherly figure who has the feelings of ordinary Chinese close to his heart, and the report is a blow to this reputation.

“Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership,” the paper said.

“A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives – some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal-making – have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion,” it said.

The report outlined how business ventures linked to Mr Wen’s family sometimes received financial backing from state-owned enterprises such as mobile phone company China Mobile, and from some of the richest people in Asia. The family also built up holdings in property companies, jewellery companies, banks and insurance companies.

It’s the latest exposé to emerge about the assets of the relatives of senior leaders, after a story by the financial news agency Bloomberg in June saying that the family of future leader Xi Jinping owned companies with €291 million in assets, an 18 per cent indirect stake in a rare-earths firm with €1.3 billion in assets and a €15.6 million holding in a tech company.

Similar to the Bloomberg story, the revelations about Mr Wen’s relatives do not establish a formal link to the premier but relate how the family was able to profit from Mr Wen’s elevated position in Chinese public life.

The report does not make a link between Mr Wen and his policy decisions but says that in some cases his relatives have tried to profit from opportunities made possible by those decisions.

His younger brother Wen Jiahong runs a waste-treatment company that was awarded more than €23 million in government contracts and subsidies, while his family also made money investing in shares in Ping An Insurance before Mr Wen issued rules that helped the company.

In a sign of how sensitive these kind of reports can be, the newspaper’s Chinese website, which carried a translation of the story, was blocked in China, along with the English site, and references to the story on social networking sites were also censored. Bloomberg’s website remains blocked in China.

There have long been rumours that Mr Wen’s family had done well during his decade in power. His wife, mother, siblings, children and their in-laws are mentioned in the story, and a WikiLeaks cable from 2007 quoted a source as saying the premier was “disgusted” by his family’s activities.