Nearly a third of the business of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers scandal, came from its offices in Hong Kong and China, reports say – making the Asian giant its biggest market.
Shell companies incorporated through the Hong Kong and China offices of the Panamanian law firm accounted for 29 per cent of its global active companies, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which co-ordinated a year-long investigation into a trove of 11.5 million documents.
The investigation found that relatives of at least eight current or former members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the ruling party’s most powerful body, have been implicated in the use of offshore companies.
Such vehicles are not illegal in themselves and can be used for legitimate business needs. But they commonly feature in corruption cases, when they can be used to secretly move ill-gotten gains abroad.
Under President Xi Jinping, Beijing has launched a much-publicised anti-graft drive, but has not instituted systemic reforms such as public declarations of assets.
Xi’s brother-in-law and family members of two current members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan, have offshore holdings, ICIJ reported.
Relatives of past PSC members Jia Qinglin, once the fourth-ranked leader in China, Li Peng, who led the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Hu Yaobang, former vice-president Zeng Qinghong, and Tian Jiyun were named by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which took part in the investigation.
The documents also named film star Jackie Chan, billionaire heiress Kelly Zong Fuli, and shopping-mall magnate Shen Guojun.
Chinese media have largely avoided reporting on the leaks and social media have been scrubbed of references to them, with foreign news broadcasters such as the BBC blacked out when they report on the issue.
Mossack Fonseca has offices in eight Chinese cities including Hong Kong, its website showed, more than any other country.
Its locations in China include the major financial centres of Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as the port cities of Qingdao and Dalian, and lesser-known provincial capitals such as Jinan, in Shandong province, and Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, along with another Zhejiang city, Ningbo.
In a statement, Mossack Fonseca denied any wrongdoing and said it had always complied with relevant laws and regulations.