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The highlights of “Chinaleaks”

The China Leaks investigation uncovered the hidden offshore holdings of the relatives of China's leaders, generating a wave of global media coverage and triggering a massive censorship effort by Chinese authorities.

Reports by ICIJ and its partners revealing the secretive offshore holdings of China’s political and financial elite have generated a global wave of media coverage and an aggressive censorship campaign by Chinese authorities.

Last week, China Digital Times, a website that monitors censorship instructions, published details of a government directive to Chinese websites ordering that content related to China Leaks must be “deleted without exception,” and warning them to block user IDs of “those with an evil influence.” 

Yet only days after the government scrambled to censor the story, Chinese tax commissioner Wang Jun vowed that China would step up its participation in international efforts to combat tax evasion and crack down on tax fraud within the nation. 

The moves came in response to exposés published by ICIJ and more than a dozen media partners around the world, who probed various aspects of China’s hidden offshore wealth. A selection of front page stories from across the globe can be viewed here. These are some of the highlights:

  •         In Switzerland, Le Matin examined how Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse helped relatives of China’s elite establish offshore holdings. Their clients included Wen Yunsong, also known as Winston Wen, the son of former Premier Wen Jiabao. You can read the stories here (in French, German and Spanish).
  •        In France, correspondents from Le Monde travelled to the British Virgin Islands, the home of most of the offshore companies revealed in the reports. During a visit to a high-school class on finance, students were taught that the BVI had been caught unprepared by a powerful recent hurricane that recently battered its shores: the hurricane known as ICIJ.
  •       In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post published a detailed exposé of  undeclared offshore accounts by two members of the Hong Kong government’s Commission on Poverty.
  •        In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung probed the role of powerful banks including Deutsche Bank, UBS and Credit Suisse in helping Chinese elites set up offshore accounts. (Here’s a story about the reports in English.) Süddeutsche also produced a PDF version of their story in Chinese that could be distributed in China once the internet was blocked, and reported more than 7,600 downloads of the document in the first few days.
  •       In Southeast Asia, ICIJ partners in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines all published China Leaks exposés. CommonWealth Magazine in Taiwan revealed that more than a dozen billionaire owners of some of Taiwan’s largest corporations had offshore holdings. The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, whose Offshore Leaks reporting earlier this year prompted the family of former dictator Chun Doo-Hwan to pay more than $150 million in fines for looting assets, published print and television reports on the revelations (in Korean).
  •     In the UK and the U.S., The Guardian published reports on China Leaks and covered the sweeping censorship campaign by the Chinese government that followed. A propaganda directive by Chinese authorities ordered websites and services in China to “immediately find and remove the foreign media report “China’s Secret Offshore Tax Havens” and that “related images and accusatory comments about leaders and the system [of government] must be deleted without exception.”  The directive also called on the sites to block the user IDs of “those with an evil influence.”
  •      In Spain, El País examined how the Chinese elite’s offshore holdings have contributed to growing inequality in the nominally Communist country. China’s Gini coefficient, a leading measure of economic inequality, recently surpassed that of Europe and the United States. The stories were part of 19 pages in print, including consecutive front page stories, that El Pais devoted to China Leaks.

In addition to reports by ICIJ’s partners, the story was picked up by leading media outlets around the world. The international reports and responses generated by China Leaks include:

  •       A lengthy report in the New York Times that detailed ICIJ’s findings. ICIJ partnered with the Times on a recent Offshore Leaks story that examined offshore trusts in the Cook Islands used to stash wealth beyond the reach of United States law.
  •      The New Yorker published an examination of ICIJ’s reporting, and noted that its collaborative approach posed a broad challenge to the Chinese government’s efforts to control the foreign press.
  •       The Agence France-Press published a story about ICIJ in the wake of Chinaleaks that called the report a “new coup” for the organization. The story described ICIJ as “a powerful strike force” for international investigative journalism.
  •        Monitoring of China’s popular social network Sina Weibo showed that ICIJ’s interactive graphic showing Chinese princelings with offshore holdings was a popular image among users before it was targeted by censors. Once authorities began targeting the report, the acronym “ICIJ” was promptly censored from Weibo.
  •     Additional media outlets that have covered the China Leaks revelations include the Associated Press, Fox News, the Financial Times, CNN, Agence France‑Presse, MSNBC and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, among numerous others.

A roundup of official reactions to the overall Offshore Leaks project can be seen here.


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