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By Gil Aegerter

Some of China's top leaders are hiding vast wealth through offshore companies set up by relatives and close associates in tax havens, according to a report that an investigative journalism group said is based on a huge leak of financial documents.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists report, released Tuesday, said the documents show almost 22,000 clients of offshore companies and banks have addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong, including at least 15 of China's richest men and women, members of the National People's Congress and executives of state-owned companies.

The consortium said the files on China's offshore clients came from Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and Commonwealth Trust Limited, based in the British Virgin Islands. It said the files were part of a leak of 2.5 million documents that the consortium has been using over the past year and a half in a global examination of how offshore tax havens are used to hide corruption, money laundering and large-scale fraud.

The report said Chinese officials aren't required to publicly disclose their assets and the consortium has said that there are legitimate uses of offshore companies. But the report said such offshore tax havens keep Chinese citizens from finding out where government officials' wealth came from and protect the elite from taxes. The report says between $1 trillion and $4 trillion in untraced assets have been taken out of China since 2000.

Efforts to get comment from Chinese leaders and business people whose dealings were detailed were for the most part unsuccessful, the report said. But Reuters reported that the Chinese government condemned the report on Wednesday and blocked websites and censored mention of the story.

The consortium said in an email that on Thursday it would name more than 37,000 offshore clients from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in a database that already includes 70,000 names from elsewhere in the world, published last June.