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Chinese Officials Were Implicated in the Panama Papers, but You Wouldn't Know It in China

China has apparently been blocking search terms and removing online stories that would lead citizens to read about how the relatives of party leaders have been linked to offshore companies.
Photo by Wu Hong/EPA

China has taken steps to limit coverage and access to information about the massive leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm that exposed how the world's rich and powerful have stored and hid their money.

Family members of Chinese President Xi Jinping and other powerful current and former Chinese leaders were among those revealed in the Panama Papers to be linked to offshore companies, but searching online for information about the leak will only give limited results.


Searches for the word "Panama" on Chinese search engines bring up stories in Chinese media on the topic, but many of the links have been disabled or only open onto stories about allegations directed at sports stars.

One of those mentioned in the documents is Deng Jiagui, the husband of Xi's older sister, who a 2012 Bloomberg investigation found had hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, as did other members of Xi's extended family.

Related: The VICE News Guide to the Panama Papers

Two other current members of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, China's supreme governing body, and four former members also have relatives named in the Panama Papers as directors or shareholders in companies located in tax havens.

Such a situation is not illegal in China but the Communist Party's code of ethics dictates officials must not engage in profit-seeking activities, use their power to boost their wealth, or allow their family and friends to benefit from their positions of influence.

The BBC reported on Monday that Chinese citizens were discussing the topic and sharing translations of the story on microblogging network Sina Weibo, mobile chat network Wechat, and social network Weibo — but by the end of the day many of those posts had disappeared. At least 481 discussions with a hashtag relating to Deng were deleted from the Weibo Panama Papers topic page, according to the BBC, and other posts shared on Wechat were also deleted.


As well as multiple Chinese officials, the Panama Papers revealed financial arrangements of politicians and public figures including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland, and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.

While holding money in offshore companies is not illegal, journalists who received the leaked documents said they could provide evidence of wealth hidden for tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions busting, drug deals, or other crimes.

While the Chinese government has yet to respond publicly to the allegations — the cabinet's news office did not immediately answer a request for comment — state media have largely avoided any reporting of the leak.

China's internet regulator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Related: Panama Papers Leak Taints David Cameron's Effort to Curb Massive UK Tax Avoidance

But the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, suggested in an editorial on Tuesday that Western media backed by Washington used such leaks to attack political targets in non-Western countries.

"The Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump, and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it," the paper said.

"Information that is negative to the US can always be minimized, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin," it added.


The editorial, in both its English and Chinese editions, made no mention of the China connections in the Panama Papers.

China is in the midst of a massive crackdown on corruption overseen by Xi, but the government has repeatedly had to swat away criticism the move is more about an internal power play than actually tackling graft.

Calls to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party's graft watchdog leading the crackdown, went unanswered.

Last week, a top party magazine lashed out at critics of the anti-corruption campaign, saying foreign media and individuals from home and abroad were intentionally trying to discredit the effort as a political "power struggle."

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Related: The Panama Papers: Global Investigations Begin Following Damning Tax Haven Revelations