More Chinese officials’ relatives named in ‘Panama Papers’ investigation

home_140402_cropJISHOU, HUNAN — Five more relatives of past and present China Politburo members have been identified as holders of secretive multi-million-dollar offshore assets by a worldwide group of journalists.

The reports brings the number of Chinese offshore account holders to nine so far. The first four identified by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) include the brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping, and the granddaughter of former premier Li Peng.

In a report today, the ICIJ named:

  • Lee Shing Put, son-in-law of Zhang Gaoli, a current Politburo Standing Committee member, was a shareholder of three companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands: Zennon Capital Management, Sino Reliance Networks Corporation and Glory Top Investments Ltd.
  • Jia Liqing, daughter-in-law of Liu Yunshan, another Standing Committee member, was the director and shareholder of Ultra Time Investments Ltd., a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 2009.
  • Zeng Qinghuai, brother of Zeng Qinghong, the vice president of China from 2002 to 2007, was the director of a company, China Cultural Exchange Association Ltd., that was incorporated first in the island nation of Niue and then re-domiciled in 2006 in Samoa.
  • Hu Dehua, son of the late Hu Yaobang, who served as head of the Chinese Communist Party from 1982 to 1987, was shareholder, director and beneficial owner of Fortalent International Holdings Ltd., a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 2003. Hu Dehua registered the company using his home address — the traditional courtyard home where his father lived while party chief.
  • Chen Dongsheng is the grandson-in-law of Chairman Mao Zedong, who led Communist China from 1949 to his death in 1976. Chen incorporated Keen Best International Limited in the British Virgin Islands in 2011. He also heads a life insurance company and an art auction house, and was the sole director and shareholder of Keen Best.

Previously named by the ICIJ are:

  • Li XiaoLin, businesswoman and daughter of former Premier Li Peng. ICIJ revealed in 2015 she held nearly $2.48 million in a secret HSBC account in Switzerland.
  • Deng Jiagui, brother-in-law of sitting President Xi Jinping. Bloomberg had already reported in 2012 that Deng and his wife held several hundred million dollars in offshore assets. Bloomberg’s website has been blocked ever since those reports came out.
  • Jasmine Li, granddaughter of a former member of the Politburo, Jia Qingling. ICIJ reports that Li is the secret, sole shareholder of two shell companies, Harvest Sun Trading Ltd. and Xin Sheng Investments, which are the parent companies of two Beijing-registered consulting companies.
  • Patrick Henri Devilliers, French architect and an associate of disgraced Party member Bo Xilai and his wife, Gu Kailai. ICIJ reports that Devilliers helped Gu set up a secret offshore company that was used to purchase a luxury villa in the south of France. Bo was tried and convicted of corruption in 2013. Gu was tried and convicted in 2012 for the murder of a British businessman. Devilliers was detained in China, but later released. He now lives in Cambodia.

While the consortium notes that it’s not necessarily illegal to establish offshore companies to protect assets, the revelations come as President Xi attempts to root out corruption in the Communist Party of China. Several high-ranking party officials have been tried and convicted — and their identities revealed in state media — of accumulating millions of dollars illicitly.

But the Chinese government is making sure the ICIJ revelations are not available to most users of the Internet in China, and ‘net censors have quickly deleted or blocked domestic discussions about them on social media.

ICIJ obtained a massive data dump of emails and other documents belonging to Mossack Fonseca, an international law firm which helps wealthy clients set up “shell companies” to move assets offshore. The group’s reports this month have already led to the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister. He or his wife (it’s not exactly clear) created an offshore company to shelter assets just as Iceland was suffering an economic meltdown.

The group also says it has found evidence of a $2 billion money laundering scheme that is apparently connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chinese official spokesmen have refused to comment on the ICIJ reports regarding party members. State media have only reported on foreigners named in the reports.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment by ICIJ. Asked whether China plans to investigate any of the China-related companies or holdings revealed in the leaked documents, ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday that he had no comment on the “groundless accusations.”

Not only politicians have been named. The ICIJ has also found celebrities and business leaders mentioned in the Mossack Fonseca files.

Along with politically connected princelings, Mossack Fonseca’s customers from China include the super wealthy such as Shen Guojun, who founded the Chinese shopping mall chain Intime. Shen was a shareholder, together with the kung fu star Jackie Chan and others, of a company called Dragon Stream Limited that was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 2008.

Another billionaire, Kelly Zong Fuli, the daughter of billionaire soft drink magnate Zong Qinghou, acquired a BVI company called Purple Mystery Investments with help from Mossack Fonseca in February 2015. Correspondence shows the purpose of the company was “investment in China.”

Shen Guojun, Jackie Chan and Kelly Zong Fuli did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.

The super-rich use offshore shell accounts to protect or conceal their assets from prying eyes, often to avoid taxation by their home countries. In a few cases, the shell corporations are disguises for illegal activities, or as means to do business with nations that are persona non grata in the international community — North Korea or Syria, for example.

The consortium has stated it will release a list of all Mossack Fonseca clients early next month. In the meantime, Brian Kilmartin of The Irish Times has created an interactive map showing where those clients are located and their number. This sample I’ve extracted is quite illuminating.

Sources: ICIJ; Brian Kilmartin, Irish Times

Sources: ICIJ; Brian Kilmartin, Irish Times

Mossack Fonseca’s Hong Kong branch has been reported as the firm’s busiest office. These numbers support than claim.

Wikipedia is maintaining a list of people named in the ICIJ Panama Papers reports. The list will be updated as necessary.

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