Family of Wen Jiabao Holds Hidden Fortune

A New York Times investigation into business dealings by the family of prime minister Wen Jiabao has prompted the blocking in China of the newspaper’s English and Chinese websites. The article, by David Barboza, uncovers billions of dollars of hidden assets in the hands of Wen’s immediate and extended family.

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives, some of whom have a knack for aggressive deal-making, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

[…] While Communist Party regulations call for top officials to disclose their wealth and that of their immediate family members, no law or regulation prohibits relatives of even the most senior officials from becoming deal-makers or major investors — a loophole that effectively allows them to trade on their family name. Some Chinese argue that permitting the families of Communist Party leaders to profit from the country’s long economic boom has been important to ensuring elite support for market-oriented reforms.

Even so, the business dealings of Mr. Wen’s relatives have sometimes been hidden in ways that suggest the relatives are eager to avoid public scrutiny, the records filed with Chinese regulatory authorities show. Their ownership stakes are often veiled by an intricate web of holdings as many as five steps removed from the operating companies, according to the review.

Barboza notes that Wen does not appear to have actively wielded his influence to enrich his family. According to an executive quoted in a WikiLeaked cable from 2007, in fact, “Wen is disgusted with his family’s activities, but is either unable or unwilling to curtail them”; he is even said to have considered divorcing his wife for taking advantage of their relationship.

The subsequent blocking of the Times’ websites can have come as no surprise: Barboza’s article refers specifically to measures taken against Bloomberg.com following a similar exposé of Xi Jinping’s family wealth in June. From Keith Bradsher:

Rebecca MacKinnon, a senior fellow specializing in Internet free expression and privacy issues at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan group headquartered in Washington, said that the Chinese interruption of Internet access was typical of the response to information that offended leaders.

“This is what they do: they get mad, they block you,” she said.

[…] By midmorning on Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Web sites was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested. The Chinese-language site had been blocked abruptly between 5 and 5:30 a.m. Beijing time, which is 12 hours ahead of New York, while the blockage of the English-language site appeared to have taken effect more gradually between 5 and 7 a.m. Beijing time.

Weibo censors have also swung into action: the latest instalment in CDT’s Sensitive Words series notes blocked searches for terms including “2.7 billion” and various names or references to The New York Times.