The mystery of a Chinese tycoon's disappearance


Picture of HK newspapers on 1 February 2017 about Xiao Jianhua's disappearance

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Mr Xiao’s disappearance was widely covered by Hong Kong newspapers on Wednesday

In 2015 five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared and later resurfaced in mainland China in the hands of Chinese authorities. Now, there are concerns that Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua, who has not been seen since last week, has met a similar fate.

The first murmur came from overseas.

Mingjing News, a New York-based site that specialises in Chinese politics, reported that an unnamed Chinese billionaire had been arrested in Hong Kong and taken to mainland China last Friday evening by Chinese police and state security officials.

The next day, Hong Kong police received a request to investigate the whereabouts of the missing businessman.

Local police began their investigation and found that the subject of their enquiry had indeed re-entered mainland China on Friday, the same day he was detained.

A day later, on 29 January, however, a family member asked the police to close the case, saying the missing person had been in touch and was “safe”.

By Monday, all of Hong Kong was wondering, who was the billionaire? What was his crime? Where was he? And had Chinese agents been operating on Hong Kong soil with impunity?

US-based news site Bowen Press soon named the tycoon as Xiao Jianhua, one of China’s richest people, with a $6bn (£4.8bn) fortune, according to Hurun Report, a ranking of wealthy Chinese people.

Mr Xiao, who is in his mid-40s, was known to have been a student leader at the prestigious Peking University during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

His business ventures were mainly in the financial services sector.

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AFP/Getty Images

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The Four Seasons is one of Hong Kong’s top hotels

In 2014, the China-born tycoon denied that he moved to Hong Kong to avoid a Chinese government corruption investigation.

He was said to have been last seen on Friday at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong, where he was understood to be living.

The mystery deepened when Mr Xiao’s company, the Beijing-based Tomorrow Holdings, apparently issued a statement on its official account on messaging app Wechat.

“I, Xiao Jianhua, am overseas receiving medical treatment,” said the announcement, according to Hong Kong media.

“Everything is fine. It’s business as usual at Tomorrow,” said the statement.

The message seems to contradict the Hong Kong police report that Mr Xiao had returned to China.

On Tuesday, the company issued yet another statement, reportedly saying Mr Xiao was a patriot and a Communist Party stalwart.

It claimed he had not been kidnapped.

In fact, the statement said Mr Xiao, who was born in China, was also a Canadian citizen and a permanent Hong Kong resident, and that he enjoyed the legal protection of both.

It promised Mr Xiao would finish his treatment and meet the media soon.

Strangely though, both statements soon vanished. The company’s account on WeChat seemed to be removed. And the company website is currently inaccessible.

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Tuesday’s statement later came out as a front-page advertisement on Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao on Wednesday

The Canadian government has told BBC News that it was aware of the case, and that consular officials were gathering more information.

With so many questions and so few answers, rumours are swirling that Mr Xiao’s disappearance had something to do China’s continuing anti-corruption campaign.

Or was he possibly involved with a faction in the Chinese government that opposed President Xi Jinping?

If he was indeed abducted from Hong Kong, was it a violation of the ‘”one country, two systems” policy that was meant to keep the territory legally separate from China until 2047?

So far, there are no answers.

Hong Kong police have said that, despite the request from family members, they are continuing to investigate the case.



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