ICIJ investigation reveals nearly 22,000 tax-haven clients from Hong Kong and the mainland.
WASHINGTON, DC (January 21) – Close relatives of China’s top leaders have owned secretive companies in offshore tax havens usually associated with hidden wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a project of the Center for Public Integrity, cracks open the extensive links of some of China’s most powerful men and women to the world of offshore finance.
The confidential records, obtained by ICIJ as part of its “Offshore Leaks” investigation, include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.
“China is one of the leading sources of new offshore clients but, until now, their use of secretive tax havens has largely gone unnoticed,”said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle. “We hope our reporting will shine new light on the secret dealings of China’s ruling class.”
Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files, including at least 15 of China’s richest citizens, members of the National People’s Congress, and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals. The records also include details of roughly 16,000 clients from Taiwan.
The documents are part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked files that ICIJ has sifted through with help from more than 50 reporting partners in Europe, North America, Asia and other regions. Since last April, ICIJ’s stories have triggered official inquiries, high-profile resignations and policy changes around the world. Until now, the Chinese records had never been disclosed.
Top-level corruption is a politically sensitive issue in China, and the country’s leadership has cracked down on journalists who have exposed the hidden wealth of top officials and their families. In November, a mainland Chinese news organization that was working with ICIJ to analyze the offshore data withdrew from the reporting partnership, explaining that authorities had warned it not to publish anything about the material. ICIJ is keeping the identity of the news outlet confidential to protect journalists from government retaliation.
Among the investigation’s key findings:
- Relatives of at least five current or former members of China's Politburo Standing Committee – President Xi Jinping, former premiers Wen Jiabao and Li Peng, former President Hu Jintao and former leader Deng Xiaoping – have held companies in the Cook Islands or British Virgin Islands, the records obtained by ICIJ show.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers, UBS, Credit Suisse and other Western banks and accounting firms played a key role as middlemen in helping Chinese clients set up trusts and companies in tax havens.
- China’s oil industry, which has been shaken by a series of corruption scandals, has extensive links to offshore centers. The country’s three big state-owned oil companies – CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC – are linked to dozens of BVI companies that show up in the ICIJ files.
Database Goes Online
On Thursday, ICIJ will disclose the names of more than 37,000 offshore clients from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in its Offshore Leaks Database. The Offshore Leaks database was first published in June 2013 but the China details were withheld while reporting was ongoing.
To analyze the China files ICIJ collaborated with journalists from Ming Pao newspaper (Hong Kong), Commonwealth Magazine (Taiwan) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). The story is published in partnership with The Guardian (UK & US), Le Monde (France), El País (Spain), CBC (Canada), Le Soir (Belgium), L’Espresso (Italy), Le Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung (Switzerland), Trouw (The Netherlands) Asahi Shimbun (Japan), Newstapa (South Korea), Global Mail (Australia) and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
About the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)
The ICIJ is an active global network of more than 170 reporters in more than 60 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories. Founded in 1997, ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power. Backed by the Center and its computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors provide real-time resources and state-of-the-art tools and techniques to journalists around the world. www.icij.org
About the Center for Public Integrity
Founded in 1989 by Charles Lewis, the Center for Public Integrity is one of the country's oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations. Our mission: to enhance democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism. www.publicintegrity.org
ICIJ Media Relations
Office: 1 + (202) 481-1232
Gerard Ryle (ICIJ Director)
Office: 1 + (202) 481-1217