BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have blocked Canadian government representatives from attending the trial of Chinese-Canadian billionaire Xiao Jianhua, the Canadian embassy said on Tuesday.
Xiao, who went missing in Hong Kong five years ago, was due to go on trial in China on Monday and Canadian consular officials had been pressing for consular access, the embassy said earlier in a statement.
“Canada made several requests to attend the trial proceedings,” public diplomacy counsellor at the embassy, Nadia Scipio del Campo, said in an emailed statement sent to reporters.
“Our attendance was denied by Chinese authorities.”
When asked for further details such as to confirm the location of the trial, the embassy said it would not comment further due to privacy considerations.
A spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, said on Monday he was not aware of the situation, when asked about Xiao’s trial at a media briefing.
China-born Xiao, known to have links to Communist Party elite, has not been seen in public since 2017 after he was investigated amid a state-led crackdown on conglomerates.
Officials have not disclosed the specifics of the investigation.
Xiao was whisked away from a Hong Kong hotel, in a wheelchair with his head covered, in the early hours of the day he went missing, a source close to the tycoon told Reuters at the time.
Xiao was ranked 32nd on the 2016 Hurun China rich list, China’s equivalent of the Forbes list, with an estimated net worth of $5.97 billion at the time.
At the centre of Xiao’s empire is the financial group Tomorrow Holdings Co.
In July 2020, regulators seized nine of the group’s related institutions as part of a crackdown on risks posed by financial conglomerates.
In 2021, regulators extended the one-year take-over period of the nine financial enterprises by another year to “further promote risk disposal work and defuse financial risks”.
The extended custody is set to end on July 16.
The seizures were preceded in 2019 by a takeover by regulators of Baoshang Bank, a lender once controlled by Tomorrow. Regulators cited severe credit risks.
The lender, which had operated nationwide, was revamped into a much smaller lender in its home region of Inner Mongolia in northern China.
In recent years, a number of executives at big Chinese companies have been investigated or prosecuted amid a broader crackdown on corruption spearheaded by President Xi Jinping that has also ensnared politicians and bankers.
Among those who have fallen from grace was Jiang Jiemin, former head of China National Petroleum Corp, who was jailed for 16 years for bribery and abuse of power in 2015.
In 2017, Ai Baojun, a former chairman of Baoshan Iron and Steel who later became vice mayor of Shanghai, was jailed for 17 years for bribery and graft.
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Additional reporting by Meg Shen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Robert Birsel)