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June 29, 2017

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Relatives of Xi, Wen hide riches offshore: report

HONG KONG -- Relatives of top Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping and former Premier Wen Jiabao have used offshore tax havens to hide their wealth, according to a mammoth investigation released Wednesday.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), citing information culled from 2.5 million leaked documents, said that Xi's brother-in-law and Wen's son and son-in-law were among those with offshore holdings.

It is the latest revelation to shine a light on the hidden wealth of family members of China's top officials, a topic considered off-limits by Communist Party leaders.

Offshore entities can be legal and there was no evidence that the politicians were aware of their relatives' actions.

The release came on the same day that China put leading activist Xu Zhiyong on trial for his part in protests calling for officials to disclose their assets.

It also came days after Wen reportedly penned a letter to a Hong Kong columnist proclaiming his "innocence" over previous claims that his family amassed huge wealth during his decade in power.

The ICIJ report cited nearly 22,000 offshore clients from mainland China and Hong Kong, including relatives of former president Hu Jintao, former premier Li Peng and late leader Deng Xiaoping, the man credited with opening up China's economy in the 1980s.

Also included were members of China's National People's Congress, heads of state-owned enterprises and some of the country's wealthiest men and women, including real estate mogul Zhang Xin; Pony Ma and Zhang Zhidong, co-founders of Chinese Internet giant Tencent; and Yang Huiyan, China's richest woman.

ICIJ said it sent letters to the government officials, wealthy individuals and others named in its report.

"Their response in most cases was to not respond, a standard practice in China," it said.

ICIJ said it collaborated with more than 50 partner organizations across the globe in sifting through the data, including The Guardian, Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain and Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.

The websites of all four were not accessible within China on Wednesday, and nor was ICIJ's.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing that "the logic of the article is unconvincing, which cannot but raise questions of ulterior motives."

Asked if the government planned to follow up on the report, Qin responded: "What I want to point out is, the clean will be proved clean and the dirty will be proved dirty."

The confidential files leaked to ICIJ also include the names of 16,000 clients from Taiwan.

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