'Abduction' of China tycoon sparks fear in Hong Kong

'Abduction' of China tycoon sparks fear in Hong Kong
PHOTO: Social media

HONG KONG - The mystery over the reported abduction from Hong Kong of a Chinese billionaire deepened Wednesday after a newspaper advert appeared in his name pledging loyalty to China, in a case that has heightened fears over Beijing's meddling.

The whereabouts of financier Xiao Jianhua - one of China's richest men - are unclear after reports in overseas Chinese-language media that he was taken from Hong Kong by mainland security agents last week.

The reports suggested Xiao's disappearance was part of China's ongoing anti-corruption campaign, which some critics believe has been used to target President Xi Jinping's political opponents.

A front-page advert in Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, attributed to Xiao, said Wednesday he had "always loved the (ruling Communist) party and the country" and would soon meet with media.

Read also: Missing Chinese tycoon rose from rags to riches

"I personally believe the Chinese government is civilised and has rule of law," the advert read.

"I have not been kidnapped." Xiao, who said in the statement he was a Canadian citizen, insisted he was being treated for an illness overseas, repeating a denial he had been abducted published on his company's WeChat account Monday.

The founder of Beijing-based Tomorrow Group, Xiao was previously reported to have denied allegations he fled to Hong Kong in 2014 to escape the corruption crackdown.

He is said to have acted as a broker for the Chinese leadership, including for Xi's family.

But overseas Chinese-language news site Bowen Press said Xiao could also have been connected to an "anti-Xi coalition".

It is illegal for mainland agents to operate in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, but the disappearance of five booksellers known for publishing salacious titles about Beijing's leadership in 2015 prompted widespread criticism China had overstepped that line.

One of the men, Lee Bo, vanished from Hong Kong, triggering international condemnation and local protests.

Read also: Chinese billionaire abducted by security agents in Hong Kong: Reports

Lee always insisted he had gone over the border voluntarily.

The South China Morning Post, citing a source close to Xiao, reported Wednesday he was currently in mainland China, was not receiving medical treatment and was only in contact with his family.

Hong Kong's security bureau said the government "will not allow non-Hong Kong law enforcement officers to take law enforcement actions in Hong Kong".

But James To of the Democratic Party said there was a "credible suspicion" Hong Kong's semi-autonomous "one country, two systems" deal had been breached.

"After the Lee Bo fiasco people are very concerned about whether Hong Kong residents or people lawfully staying in Hong Kong will be protected," To told AFP.

The Financial Times reported Xiao had been led away by Chinese public security agents from an apartment at the Four Seasons hotel.

Other reports in local media said Xiao had been staying at the hotel long-term, protected by female bodyguards.

The hotel said there was an "active police investigation" Wednesday.

Hong Kong police said they had received a request for assistance over a "mainland citizen" on Saturday, but that a family member had later retracted it.

They said the person it referred to had crossed a border control point between Hong Kong and China on Friday.

The Canadian consulate said it was aware of the reports and that officials were "in contact" with authorities.

Xiao added in the Ming Pao statement that he was a permanent resident of Hong Kong, as well as holding a diplomatic passport.

Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam said Xiao may have been targeted because he knew too many "potentially embarrassing details" about financial actions involving major political clans.

China's anti-corruption drive was launched after Xi Jinping took power in 2012 and has brought down government officials and corporate executives.

Billionaire Guo Guangchang, chairman of one of the country's biggest private-sector conglomerates Fosun, vanished from public view in late 2015 in connection with an investigation by authorities, and then re-emerged.

In 2016 the chairman of one of China's most prominent fashion firms also disappeared, returning to work a week later amid speculation he had been caught up in the anti-corruption campaign.

 

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