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Panama Papers: China Censors Block Reports on Tax Shelters for Rich

Internet censors and state media outlets squelched reports Tuesday about Chinese figures named in the so-called "Panama papers."
/ Source: Reuters

BEIJING — Internet censors and state media outlets squelched reports Tuesday about Chinese figures named in the so-called "Panama Papers" — including relatives of politicians including President Xi Jinping.

Searches for articles on websites and social media postings about the leaked documents could not be opened to view their content.

However, there was no official acknowledgement that any blocking was taking place. “We won't make any comment about groundless accusations,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a daily briefing.

The blocking was not universal, with some searches resulting in stories about non-Chinese figures featured in the documents, including soccer player Lionel Messi.

The reports, by an international coalition of media outlets working with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), are based on documents leaked from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world's biggest creators of shell companies.

The Panama Papers have cast light on the financial arrangements of high-profile politicians and public figures and the companies and financial institutions they use for such activities. Among those named in the documents are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin and relatives of the leaders of China, Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.

Copies of the Global Times on sale in Beijing on Tuesday. It published an editorial saying Western media reports about the Panama Papers were focusing on political enemies and ignoring Western figures.Ng Han Guan / AP

Among their findings are that relatives of at least five past or present members of the ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee have held companies registered in tax shelters the Cook Islands or British Virgin Islands, The Associated Press reported.

Along with Xi, who has spearheaded a sweeping campaign against corruption at all levels, they include relatives of former premiers Wen Jiabao and Li Peng, ex-president Hu Jintao and one-time paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

The Global Times, an influential newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, wrote in an editorial that Western media were focusing on backed by Washington used such leaks to attack political targets in non-Western countries while minimizing coverage of Western leaders.

The global fallout from the documents continued Tuesday.

  • A second day of protest was planned in Iceland, where a huge angry crowd thronged the country’s parliament late Monday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson who was named in the documents as having assets in offshore tax havens.
  • Panama’s president insisted his country was transparent. “We are allies with all countries in the fight for transparency in the country's financial system,” Juan Carlos Vaerla told reporters.
  • Credit Suisse and HSBC, two of the world's largest wealth managers, dismissed suggestions they were actively using offshore structures to help clients cheat on their taxes. Both were named among the banks that helped set up complex structures that make it hard for tax collectors and investigators to track the flow of money from one place to another, according to ICIJ. "We do not condone structures for tax avoidance," Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam told a media briefing in Hong Kong, according to Reuters.
  • The president of the Chile branch of anti-corruption group Transparency International resigned after it was revealed he was linked to at least five offshore companies, Reuters reported.
  • Workers for French far-right lawmaker Marine Le Pen arranged a complex offshore system to hide money, Le Monde reported. The workers told the newspaper that there was no link between the money and Le Pen’s campaign funds.