Tycoon who disappeared from Hong Kong hotel in 2017 faces trial in China

China has officially tried Canadian-Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua, more than five years after his alleged kidnapping in Hong Kong rocked the city and sparked fears of forced disappearance among residents.

The Canadian Embassy in Beijing confirmed on Monday that Xiao’s trial began this week. “Canadian consular officials are following this case closely, providing consular services to his family and continuing to press for consular access,” he said in a statement, without specifying the location of the trial and the charges. against him.

An earlier Wall Street Journal report suggested that Xiao was likely to be charged with illegally collecting public deposits, which can result in a prison sentence of five years or more, depending on the severity. Since his disappearance, Xiao has been detained first in the eastern province of Jiangsu, and more recently in Shanghai.

Until 2017, Xiao, 50, was one of mainland China’s wealthiest businessmen with high-level connections in the ruling Communist Party. A student leader in 1989 at the prestigious Peking University, Xiao sided with the government during student protests and later found wealth during the country’s economic boom.

Xiao became rich selling personal computers after graduating. In 2016, according to research group Hurun Report, he was worth $6bn (£4.94bn), with investments in banking and insurance through a myriad of complex structures. Chinese news reports suggested that Xiao had, over the years, worked for a number of Chinese elite families.

A reclusive but highly respected figure in the country’s investment circles, Xiao’s fortunes were turned upside down in January 2017, when he was whisked out of Hong Kong’s Four Seasons hotel in a wheelchair, allegedly by agents plainclothes Chinese security guards, who at the time were not allowed to operate in Hong Kong.

He was then taken across the border to China, possibly by boat to avoid immigration checks, according to a New York Times report.

Hong Kong police said at the time that he had crossed into mainland China. His company Tomorrow Group also said he was on the mainland. Still, the episode rocked Hong Kong at a time of heightened influence from Beijing. Two years earlier, five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared from various places in Asia and then resurfaced in mainland China.

Chinese authorities have remained silent on Xiao’s case, which is believed to have been linked to an anti-corruption campaign championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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In a 2014 statement in response to a New York Times profile, Xiao’s spokesperson said he did not take advantage of his political connections, but rather followed Warren Buffett’s value investing strategy. .

“After studying Mr. Warren Buffett’s business philosophy, Mr. Xiao thought that engaging in business might be more suitable for his character,” said Yu Lan, a spokesperson for Tomorrow Group. “From then on, Mr. Xiao completely shied away from politics and focused on business and investments.”

Immediately after news broke of Xiao’s demise in 2017, investors began selling stocks related to Xiao’s companies. In the summer of 2020, Chinese regulators decided to seize assets worth billions of dollars linked to Tomorrow Group, which Xiao had controlled for more than two decades.

A year later, state-owned investment firm China Chengtong Holdings Group Ltd said it would acquire a majority stake in a securities company linked to Tomorrow Group.

In Hong Kong, the alleged kidnapping of Xiao in 2017 added to growing suspicion of Beijing’s influence in a territory that was guaranteed to be ruled by “one country, two systems”. These fears were at the heart of the huge protests that rocked Hong Kong two years later. Hong Kong residents feared a bill would allow extraditions to mainland China’s opaque court system.

In response to the protests, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020. The law allowed its security agencies to operate in the city and overturned the legal firewall between mainland and overseas courts. Hong Kong.

For Xiao’s family, this week’s track could end a long wait. “After five years of quiet waiting, our family continues, based on my brother’s strict instructions, to trust the Chinese government and Chinese law,” Xiao’s older brother told Xinhua to the Wall Street Journal. last month. “It’s very complicated and full of drama,” he said.

Additional AFP reporting

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