China's Xi Jinping arrives in Singapore

Revelations linking three top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, to offshore companies could radically shake up the Communist Party’s anti-corruption campaign, China watchers say.

Key points:

  • Family members of China’s senior leaders associated with Panama Papers data leak
  • Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law set up three offshore companies
  • China’s anti-corruption campaign may become more intense or end, expert says

An in-depth examination of some of the 11.5 million leaked emails from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca relating to Chinese clients has revealed fresh details about family members of senior leaders.

Among those who used the law firm to set up offshore companies in the infamous tax haven is a son-in-law of China’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, and the daughter-in-law of Zhang Gaoli, another member of the country’s highest political body.

Family members of five former members of China’s top political body have also been named in the documents, as well as the husband of one of Mao Zedong’s granddaughters.

The fresh details come after it was revealed that Mr Xi’s brother-in-law used Mossack Fonseca to set up three offshore companies.

Nothing in the leaks reveal whether there was any illegal activity or wrongdoing, but they sit uncomfortably with the Communist Party’s ongoing anti-corruption crackdown.

“This shows that among the senior Party leadership, corruption is, to a certain degree, systemic,” said Wu Qiang, an independent political commentator and former lecturer at Tsinghua University.

In the three years since Mr Xi came to power, more than 30,000 officials have been punished for corruption, and many more investigated.

Explainer: Inside the Panama Papers

Why does this matter? Is it illegal? How do they operate? These questions and more are answered in our explainer.

But Mr Wu said the Mossack Fonseca revelations threatened to change the shape of the campaign.

“The campaign may become more intense, or it may halt it, and everyone might protect each other, saying: ‘You don’t touch me, I won’t touch you,” he said.

Another veteran China watcher said the links to Mr Xi in the documents would not hurt him.

“People have known about that for a long time, and he’s probably gone on record within the Party,” Professor David Zweig from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said.

“We’ve heard before that he had publicly asked his sister to stop doing this, and the documentation shows that the companies became dormant just before he became the leader.”

While all public and online references to the Panama Papers have been rigorously censored in China, Professor Zweig believed the scandal would help Mr Xi fight political battles within the Party over personnel.

“Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli will soon have to retire. They’re trying to lobby to get people into the politburo standing committee who might be friends and allies of theirs,” he said.

“To the extent that it undermines them it could be helpful to Xi.”

Officially, China’s Government is not responding to questions about the revelations, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman this week describing them as “groundless”.

Source: ABC


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