China condemns report on elite's "hidden" wealth, censors discussion

EIJING - The Chinese government condemned on Wednesday a report on the wealth of the country's elite being hidden in overseas tax havens as illogical and having ulterior motives, as the government blocked websites and censored mention of the story online.

The report, the result of an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was published in newspapers, including Britain's Guardian and Spain's El Pais.

It said that the relatives of top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping and the former premier, Wen Jiabao, were among members of China's elite making use of offshore havens like the British Virgin Islands.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the contents of the report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, asked about the report, said he did "not know details of the situation". "But from the point of view of a reader, the logic in the relevant articles is hard for people to believe. This cannot but make people think there is an intent behind it," he told a daily news briefing.

Asked whether China would investigate these reports and approach the tax havens for details, Qin said: "Those who are clean are clean, and those who are dirty are dirty." He did not elaborate.

Neither the State Council Information Office, which is the Cabinet's news office, nor the Communist Party's anti-corruption watchdog responded to requests for comment.

The websites of the Guardian, El Pais, Global Mail and Le Monde, which all carried the report, were inaccessible in China.

Censors appear to be working hard to prevent the topic being discussed on Sina Weibo, China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service, which is already subject to heavy censorship.

Searches for sensitive words like "offshore" and"princeling" - the term for the children of senior Chinese leaders - caused the page to go blank.

Some Weibo users posted what appeared to be instructions from the government to internet censors to scrub all mention of the report from the internet, although Reuters was not able to verify their authenticity.

Searches on Free Weibo, a site run by China-based activists which enables users to see which posts are removed, showed dozens of comments which had been deleted.

Public discussion of elite politics, and scandals surrounding top leaders and their family members, is taboo in China, with the stability obsessed ruling Communist Party fearing anything which could affect the public's faith in its rule.

The issue of the wealth of the elite is even more sensitive, even as President Xi embarks upon a crackdown on pervasive corruption.

China has arrested at least 20 activists who have campaigned for officials to publicly disclose their wealth, the most prominent of whom went on trial in Beijing on Wednesday under tight security.