A leading advocate of greater government transparency went on trial in China today on the same day a report came out exposing secret offshore financial holdings of some of China’s most powerful political families, including the current president Xi Jinping and former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.
Xu Zhiyong, 40, the founding member of the New Citizens Movement, was detained last April and formally arrested in August. Xu is accused of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place," and he is facing up to five years in prison.
Xu's civil rights group has campaigned for officials to disclose their assets and give equal educational opportunities to the children of migrant workers. Another six people associated with the New Citizens Movement are scheduled to go on trial later this week, and since last June, an estimated 160 other activists and dissidents have been detained nationwide.
Xu’s case was heard in the No. 1 Beijing Intermediate People’s Court. A large group of policemen were outside the court preventing journalists and supporters of Xu from entering the area.
Hours before the trial, a new report from the Washington, DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) cited leaked documents that list the offshore holdings of some of China’s wealthiest people. These included the family members of more than a dozen military and political leaders.
The report showed the clients have used offshore tax havens in the Caribbean to store their wealth. Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, Wen Jiabao’s son and son-in-law, and the late Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law are among those listed by the ICIJ.
The report also detailed how Western banks and accountants such as Credit Suisse, PwC and UBS are allegedly helping the elite Chinese to set up their offshore accounts. The clients established various holding companies, which are often used to invest in real estate, art and other assets, the ICIJ report said. It is not illegal to own offshore companies in China.
Xi Jinping took over as party boss in the fall of 2012. He announced his country was chasing a “China Dream” which he said will restore a wealthy and powerful China to its place as the “Central Kingdom.” Xi has made a corruption crackdown his priority. Thousands of officials have been put in jail, barred from enjoying lavish feasts at public expense, and frequenting luxury hotels. Xi has appeared in social media eating at a local fast food restaurant chain to show that he is an ordinary guy and to gain the people’s trust.