THE so-called Panama Papers show links between relatives of China’s most powerful men – including the country’s president – and secretive offshore firms, according to a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
After a review of the leaked documents, the ICIJ revealed yesterday that at least three members of the Chinese Communist Party’s highest decision-making body – the politburo – have family members who have controlled offshore companies.
Offshore companies remain a subject of extremely contentious debate around the world. While there may be legitimate uses for them, they are also commonly used to hide wealth accumulated through illegal or unsavory means, and/or to evade taxes.
For a helpful explanation of offshore / shell companies, watch this:
The unwelcome spotlight fell first and foremost on President Xi Jinping, whose brother-in-law, Deng Jiagui, was reportedly shown to have acquired at least three offshore companies. President Xi has embarked on a major anti-corruption drive and the revelation is likely to be embarrassing, at the least.
The leaked papers also allegedly linked the daughter-in-law of China’s head of propaganda Liu Yunshan to a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands. Additionally, the son-in-law of Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli was reported to hold shares in three companies based there.
While none of these ventures are necessarily indicative of any criminal activity, they are likely to raise questions about the wealth of China’s political elite, and the preferential legal treatment they receive there.
Chinese authorities reacted swiftly to the report and the leaked documents, embarking on a nationwide effort to ban and expunge all references to and reports of the Panama Papers. This included everything from censoring social media posts on Sina Weibo and Wechat, to ordering all local media to stay away from the topic, to fiddling with search results.
The Panama Papers is a massive cache of leaked documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies.
An anonymous source apparently handed them over to German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung in early 2015. The publication then shared the data – an astounding 2.6 terabytes in total – with the ICIJ.
Since the papers became public knowledge on Sunday, at least one head of government – Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson – has resigned.