Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
China has blocked NYTimes.com following the paper’s expose on the nation’s ruling elite, which has enriched itself during the Middle Kingdom’s prolonged economic boom. Among other revelations, the piece found that family members of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are making a fortune in lucrative Chinese business deals.
The prime minister’s mother made $120 million in just one investment five years ago. His wife, the “Diamond Queen” of China, has amassed great wealth through her diamond and gem businesses. The prime minister denies involvement and appears unhappy with his family’s greed, but, as the Times found out, his political position perhaps sowed the seeds for their business ventures.
Here are the four most ground-shaking parts of the article.
Reporter David Barboza shows how Wen’s position aided his family members in a country where the line between private and public is increasingly blurred:
As prime minister in an economy that remains heavily state-driven, Mr. Wen, who is best known for his simple ways and common touch, more importantly has broad authority over the major industries where his relatives have made their fortunes. Chinese companies cannot list their shares on a stock exchange without approval from agencies overseen by Mr. Wen, for example. He also has the power to influence investments in strategic sectors like energy and telecommunications.”
The piece further delves into how loopholes in the Chinese political system clear a path for this to happen:
While Communist Party regulations call for top officials to disclose their wealth and that of their immediate family members, no law or regulation prohibits relatives of even the most senior officials from becoming deal-makers or major investors — a loophole that effectively allows them to trade on their family name. Some Chinese argue that permitting the families of Communist Party leaders to profit from the country’s long economic boom has been important to ensuring elite support for market-oriented reforms.
To give his audience a sense of how the system can be exploited, the story discusses Wen’s wife’s role in the Chinese diamond trade:
His wife, Zhang Beili, is one of the country’s leading authorities on jewelry and gemstones and is an accomplished businesswoman in her own right. By managing state diamond companies that were later privatized, The Times found, she helped her relatives parlay their minority stakes into a billion-dollar portfolio of insurance, technology and real estate ventures.
Finally, it shows the extent to which Wen’s family profited from their investments.
Eighty percent of the $2.7 billion in assets identified in The Times’s investigation and verified by the outside auditors were held by, among others, the prime minister’s mother, his younger brother, two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, daughter-in-law and the parents of his son’s wife, none of whom is subject to party disclosure rules. The total value of the relatives’ stake in Ping An is based on calculations by The Times that were confirmed by the auditors. The total includes shares held by the relatives that were sold between 2004 and 2006, and the value of the remaining shares in late 2007, the last time the holdings were publicly disclosed.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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