While Chinese officials aren’t required to disclose their assets publicly, citizens have remained largely in the dark about the parallel economy that can allow the powerful and well-connected to avoid taxes and keep their dealings secret. By some estimates, between $1 trillion and $4 trillion in untraced assets have left the country since 2000.
Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in leaked files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.
The files come from two offshore firms — Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited — that help clients create offshore companies, trusts and bank accounts. They 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 April 2013, ICIJ’s stories have triggered official inquiries, high-profile resignations and policy changes around the world. Until now, the details on China and Hong Kong had not been disclosed.
The growing onshore and offshore wealth of China’s elites “may not be strictly illegal,” but it is often tied to “conflict of interest and covert use of government power,” said Minxin Pei, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. “If there is real transparency, then the Chinese people will have a much better idea of how corrupt the system is [and] how much wealth has been amassed by government officials through illegal means.”
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.
Along with the China and Hong Kong names, ICIJ’s files also include the names of roughly 16,000 offshore clients from Taiwan. ICIJ will continue to publish stories with its partners in the next few days and will release the Greater China names on its Offshore Leaks Database.
Text excerpted from Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings Of China’s Elite by Marina Walker Guevara, Gerard Ryle, Alexa Olesen, Mar Cabra, Michael Hudson and Christoph Giesen. Excerpted with permission from The International Consortium Of Investigative Journalists a project of The Center for Public Integrity. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2015.