BEIJING – Family members or close friends of four important Chinese political personalities, including President Xi Jinping and ousted leader Bo Xilai, are mentioned in the “Panama Papers” that have recently sent shockwaves around the world.
While the Chinese government has not commented on the leaks yet, the documents indicate that a brother-in-law of Xi, Deng Jiagui, became the director and sole shareholder of the two front companies in the British Virgin Islands in 2009, when Xi was serving as the country’s Vice President.
Xi’s brother-in-law had previously been found involved in shady business deals in 2014, was exposed in another leak by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the same group that released the “Panama Papers,” as well as in a report by Bloomberg in 2012, which also generated much controversy.
Regarding Bo Xilai, former Trade Minister and leader of the Chinese city of Chongqing, the Panama documents mention the French architect Patrick Henri Devillers, friend of the Chinese politician and his wife Gu Kailai, as their frontman for a firm that was also based in the British Virgin Islands.
A luxury mansion for Bo and his wife that cost $3.2 million, located in the south of France, was also bought in secret.
The mansion and Devillers’ testimony were used as evidence in trials against Bo and his wife held by the Chinese courts in 2012 and 2013, and after which both were sentenced to life imprisonment (for corruption, and his wife also for the murder of a British businessman).
Documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca also mention former Chinese Minister Li Peng, head of the Chinese government between 1987 and 1998, whose daughter Li Xiaolin had a foundation in Liechtenstein, who in turn was the sole shareholder of another firm in the Virgin Islands.
Li Xiaolin, who also held important political and business positions in China, changed her name in the passport so as not to appear related to Li Peng, the man who, according to many historians, ordered the military repression of the Tiananmen protests in 1989.
Although it is not illegal to own a company abroad, sometimes companies in tax havens, such as the Caribbean archipelago, are used for illegal activities, including tax evasion and money laundering.
The involvement of Xi and other leaders in the “Panama Papers” comes at a time when the country is witnessing a massive anti-corruption campaign, launched by the Chinese president when he came to power in 2013, and that has resulted in dozens of arrests and convictions of senior officials at all levels.