Tycoon who had a close relationship with party leaders and Xi Jinping goes missing under contradictory circumstances. Suspicions fall on Beijing for violating Hong Kong’s autonomy like in the case of five missing booksellers.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua has disappeared from his luxury hotel in Hong Kong under mysterious circumstances during the weekend of Chinese New Year.
According to several sources quoted by the South China Morning Post, the tycoon is now in mainland China "helping inquiries" into the stock market turmoil of 2015 and the case of a former top spy.
It remains unclear in what capacity the mainland agents came to Hong Kong, or which agencies they represented. But the case has sparked fears that the agents might have been acting beyond their jurisdiction in crossing the border, thereby violating the city’s autonomy.
Some reports in Hong Kong suggest that Xiao is working with mainland authorities to determine what role he played in manipulation that contributed to panic selling during the 2015 market rout.
The investigation is also believed to be related to disgraced former Vice-Minister of State Security Ma Jian, who came under suspicion of violating Communist Party discipline – a euphemism for corruption – earlier that year.
Xiao’s company took out a full-page advertisement in a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday, reprinting a statement it had released a day earlier claiming he was “receiving treatment overseas”.
Earlier this week, Xiao’s Tomorrow Group*, which has close ties to major government figures, responded with two statements on his behalf via its ¬WeChat account rejecting claims he was in China, saying instead that he was in Hong Kong for medical treatment. The two statements – along with the rest of the group’s posts – were later removed from the account.
Xiao claimed in the newspaper ad to be a Canadian passport holder, although this has not been confirmed. He has also claimed to have a diplomatic passport. Antigua and Barbuda named him ambassador-at-large in 2015, according to a report on news portal Caribbean360.
A source close to the tycoon said Xiao was currently on the mainland and could communicate directly with his family, especially his wife, who had filed a missing person report before withdrawing it a day later.
Tomorrow Group is behind many large merger and acquisition deals that have involved important government officials and their families. Political analysts and media have always been interested in his ties with party heavyweights.
According to a New York Times report published in April 2014, the Tomorrow Group has close connections with the party elite, including the family of President Xi Jinping.
The report said the president’s sister Qi Qiaoqiao and her husband Deng Jiagui sold their shares in an investment firm to a company founded by Xiao after Bloomberg reported on the hidden wealth of Xi’s family. A spokesperson for Xian’s company confirmed the story, but specified that the president’s relatives did not profit from the transaction.
Xiao also arranged a financial transaction with the son of Jia Qinglin, a permanent member of the Central Committee until 2012, China’s main decision-making body.
Xiao Jianhua’s wealth is estimated by Hurun China Rich List to be around US$ 6 billion.
Despite his powerful ties, Xiao had a humble beginning. He comes from a poor family of farmers in Shandong province. He attended Peking University at age 14 and became a student leader but opposed the democracy movement that emerged in 1989 that led to the Tiananmen crackdown.
Xiao’s fate remains unclear but media outlets like the Bowen Press connect his disappearance to disagreements with Communist Party leaders.
His case echoes that of five booksellers who disappeared in Hong Kong a year ago, raising concern that Beijing is violating Hong Kong’s self-rule.
The issue could become politically relevant in the upcoming campaign for the post of Hong Kong’s chief executive.
* Tomorrow Group is an investment company with concerns in banking, insurance, and energy.