26 Oct 2012

China blocks New York Times for revealing premier’s wealth

Access to the New York Times website is blocked in China after the newspaper published an investigation into the vast wealth accumulated by Wen Jiabao and his family.

China blocks New York Times for revealing premier's wealth

An investigation by the US paper found that the Chinese premier has amassed assets worth $2.7bn through a web of investments, most of it accumulated after he rose to high office in 2002.

Chinese censors blocked the New York Times’s Chinese and English language sites straight away, as well as any references to the report on other sites.

The newspaper investigation found that the prime minister’s mother, now 90, held an investment on paper worth £120m five years ago. It is unclear if she is aware of the holdings in her name, but she acquired them after her son became part of China’s ruling elite, first as vice prime minister in 1998 and then as prime minister five years later.

In another example, the Times said partnerships controlled by Mr Wen’s relatives and their friends and colleagues held up to $2.2bn in stock in Ping An Insurance (Group) Co of China Ltd in 2007 – the last year those stock holdings were disclosed in public documents.

Blow to reputation

The revelations are expected to be a major embarrassment to the prime minister, and will be a blow to his reputation as a politician concerned with bettering the lives of ordinary Chinese. He is generally popular across China and seen as the kind face of the government.

The detailing of his wealth will also be damaging to the party and wider allegations about the wealth amassed by senior civic figures.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing the report “smears China’s name and has ulterior motives”. Asked why the websites were blocked, Hong said: “China manages the internet in accordance with laws and rules.”

Earlier this year, the Bloomberg website was blocked after an investigative report published in June examined the finances of the relatives of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping.

Parliament expels Bo Xilai

The private lives of Chinese leaders as well as their assets are kept under wraps, with personal details considered state secrets.

However top officials are ocassionally caught and prosecuted. In the biggest political scandal in China in decades, now-disgraced senior party leader Bo Xilai, whose wife was convicted of corruption and murder in August, has been expelled from the party and stands accused of corruption, bribery and sexual promiscuity. Bo was expelled from China’s parliament on Friday and is expected to stand trial soon.

In the case of Wen and his relatives, the names of family members “have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners”, the New York Times said.

After serving as premier for 10 years, Mr Wen is due to step down in a power transition that begins on 8 November.