Chinese authorities have refused to allow Canadian diplomats to attend the trial of a Chinese-Canadian tycoon who disappeared from Hong Kong five years ago, the Canadian government said on Tuesday.
Xiao Jianhua was last seen in a Hong Kong hotel in January 2017 and is believed to have been taken to the mainland by the Chinese authorities. According to news reports, he was investigated by anti-bribery authorities in the same year, although the government did not release any details.
The government has yet to confirm whether Xiao, the founder of Tomorrow Group, which has been linked to a string of anti-corruption prosecutions and regulatory seizures of financial companies, has been detained or what charges he may face.
The Canadian government had previously said Xiao was due to appear in court on Monday, but did not say if the trial took place or where. He did not provide details of possible charges.
Disappeared amid multiple prosecutions
“Canada has made several requests to participate in court hearings. We have been denied this by the Chinese authorities,” the Canadian government said in a statement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he had no information about Xiao.
Xiao disappeared amid a flurry of prosecutions of Chinese businessmen accused of misconduct.
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This heightened fears that the ruling Communist Party might be kidnapping people outside the mainland. Hong Kong at the time banned Chinese police from operating in the former British colony, which has a separate legal system.
Beijing has since tightened control over Hong Kong, prompting complaints that it is violating the autonomy promised when the territory was returned to China in 1997. In 2020, the ruling party introduced a national security law and imprisoned pro-democracy activists.
The Hong Kong police investigated Xiao’s disappearance and stated that the subject had crossed the border to the mainland. But an advertisement in Ming Pao’s newspaper on Xiao’s behalf that same week denied that he was taken against his will.
One of the richest people in China
At the time of his disappearance, Xiao’s net worth was nearly CA$7.77 billion, making him the 32nd richest person in China, according to the Hurun Report, which tracks the wealth of the country’s richest people.
Founded in 1999, Tomorrow has expanded into banking, securities, insurance, coal and real estate.
The company has become one of the most visible targets in the ruling party’s campaign to reduce risks in the Chinese financial industry. The news reported that Xiao was suspected of misusing money from banks and other companies to pay for acquisitions, but no charges were brought against him.
In 2020, regulators seized nine companies controlled by Xiao. Among them are four insurance companies, two securities firms, two trust firms and a financial futures company. Business magazine Caixin reported at the time that the total assets seized amounted to nearly $194 million.
Retired bank regulator Xue Jining has admitted to accepting $80 million in bribes in a corruption case involving Baoshang Bank Ltd. in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, which regulators confiscated from Tomorrow in 2019.
According to news reports, the auditors found that Tomorrow misused money from Baoshang Bank.
One of the Tomorrow companies taken over in 2020, Tianan Property Insurance Co., put its assets up for sale last month asking for $407 million.