China squelches Panama Papers on offshore wealth by censoring Internet

  • Sutirtho Patronobis, AP, Beijing
  • Updated: Apr 05, 2016 20:52 IST
The Panama Papers name relatives of current and retired Chinese politicians, including President Xi Jinping. (REUTERS)

China on Tuesday described as “groundless” information in the leaked Panama Papers that claims the families of China’s top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, have interests in offshore companies.

Relatives of seven current or former Chinese leaders were found to have links to offshore firms, according to documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

“About these groundless accusations, I have no comment,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a regular news conference. “On Panama papers, I have no comment.”

China’s first official reaction to the Panama Papers was accompanied by authorities censoring and taking down any online discussion or reference to the leaked documents.

An editorial in the state media dismissed the papers, saying the leak was an attempt by western media to malign leaders from other parts of the world, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Besides Xi, the documents mention relatives of Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan, members of the elite Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China’s Politburo. Relatives of the three men, according to BBC, are listed as directors or shareholders in firms located in known tax havens.

Hong was asked about a promise made by Premier Li Keqiang in his government work report about improving the tax mechanism for offshore companies and he replied: “I suggest you read the work report again.”

The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that the western media had collected the “most eye-catching information” from the documents and leaders of non-Western countries were scrutinised.

“Most media led with the allegations that a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin had laundered $1 billion. The Western media has opaquely described it as ‘Putin’s money laundering’,” it said.

It added, “Some high-profile Western public figures were named, for example Iceland’s prime minister was disclosed as having a huge offshore account. But this is just small potatoes compared with the alleged scandal against Putin.”

The editorial said the western media took control of the interpretation every time there were such leaks. “…Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it. Information that is negative to the US can always be minimised, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin,” it said.

There was no mention of Chinese leaders in the editorial.

By Tuesday morning, a search for the word “Panama” threw up zero results on the internet though some users shared screenshots of earlier stories on the massive leak.

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