China-linked offshore companies in the Panama Papers far exceed the number of entities from other countries and regions of the world, reports indicate.
Some 25,000 offshore companies with owners — either companies or individuals — from China have been listed in a mass online leak of data from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, according to initial analysis of the data.
Of those, around 13,000 are traceable to Hong Kong, which has long been suspected as a major staging post for offshore Chinese funds re-entering the country as “foreign direct investment.”
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made public information on around 210,000 companies listed in the records of Mossack Fonseca, which helps clients set up shell companies in tax havens.
The leak has sent shockwaves around the world as the tax avoidance habits of the world’s wealthiest people have been exposed.
But the ruling Chinese Communist Party has shifted its censorship machinery into overdrive since the leaks, banning news outlets from independent coverage of the story and ordering the deletion of related content from websites and social media platforms.
Chinese leaders’ families implicated
The massive leak of 11.5 million files has revealed details of the operations and ultimate, hidden ownership of a slew of offshore shell companies, including those owned by family members of top Chinese leaders and Chinese celebrities.
Many of the networks outlined in the Panama Papers begin in Hong Kong, and are now available for public investigation at the ICIJ’s website.
However, the link to the database was 100 percent blocked in China on Tuesday, while the Panama Papers homepage https://panamapapers.icij.org/ was 90 percent blocked in China on Monday and Tuesday, according to a test on the anti-censorship site GreatFire.org.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper on Tuesday said it had found 33,000 Chinese names, some of which matched the English spelling of the names of high-ranking Chinese officials.
However, the ICIJ warned that independent identity checks must be carried out to ensure that nobody is mistakenly identified.
It added that setting up an offshore shell company does not in itself prove that any wrongdoing has occurred.
At least eight current or former members of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee are among the more than 140 political figures worldwide linked to the offshore tax havens.
Global investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)
According to the Apple Daily, one name is spelled the same as that of Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei, who is listed as a beneficiary of the British Virgin Islands (BVI)-registered company Crown Aquarius.
Another listing had a name spelled identically to that of former State Ethnic Affairs Commission chief and government minorities adviser Wang Zhengwei.
And another was identical to that of State Council secretary general Yang Jing, the Apple Daily said.
Censorship limits impact
However, further investigations would be needed to confirm that these individuals were the people listed on the database, it said.
Hong Kong-based independent political commentator Johnny Lau said the new revelations are unlikely to have an immediate impact in China, where they remain inaccessible, and where public debate on the topic is tightly controlled.
But he said they could lend authenticity to future cases brought by the administration of President Xi Jinping as part of his ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
“The case of [former Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai showed us that a lot of material was gathered to use against him and his family after he became a problem,” Lau said.
“But a lot of these offshore companies revealed in the Panama Papers are people avoiding tax rather than evading it, which means that it’s a smear on their public image, but nothing more,” he said.
At least eight current or former members of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee are among the more than 140 political figures worldwide linked to the offshore tax havens, according to a global investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations.
Included in the names uncovered by the investigation are the brother-in-law of President Xi, Deng Jiagui, and the daughter of former premier Li Peng, Li Xiaolin.
China has dismissed queries about the leaks as “groundless accusations.”
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