An explosive report from the New York Times today spelled out just how wealthy the relatives of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao are. Try $2.7 billion dollars in assets. This startling news so angered Chinese officials that the Times' website was quickly shut down in China.
The lengthy report says Wen's children, brother, brother-in-law, wife and mother became "extraordinarily wealthy" after he ascended to top levels of power, starting in 1998. Some family assets include real estate developments, factories, an insurance service corporation and a private equity firm.
There are family interests described in banks, resorts, telecommunications firms and even jewelers. Wen's relatives appear to be trading on their connections, especially the premier's enormous power over big industries they've invested in, such as energy.
The portrait of the premier's relatives is very different from the one Wen has projected of himself over the past decade, NPR's Louisa Lim told Newscasts: "Premier Wen Jiabao is known as Grandpa Wen, the leader with the common touch who visits disaster sites and who caused a sensation by wearing the same down jacket over a ten year-period."
The report looks closely at Wen's wife, Zhang Beili, perhaps one of the most influential people in China's diamond and gem industry. A skilled businesswoman, she accumulated wealth and power, and helped family members do the same. There's no evidence Wen did anything to bolster her work but the story says part of the family's success came from investors who most wanted to please the premier.
Wen has cast himself as a reformer who's against government corruption, and has called for stronger financial disclosure rules for public officials. The Times notes in 2007, Wen repeated a call for senior government officials to fight graft: "They should strictly ensure that their family members, friends and close subordinates do not abuse government influence."
But there don't seem to be any financial disclosures from Wen himself. The Times says most of the $2.7 billion dollar investments it found were held by in-laws, his mother, his brother, and the parents of his daughter-in-law. These investments don't have to be publically identified, according to Communist party rules.
China's censors quickly squelched the Times story within a couple of hours after its publication. The Washington Post notes any media outlet, such as the BBC, that referred to the 'New York Times' was also quickly blocked in China. There's heightened sensitivity over Wen's image, because of China's upcoming leadership conference, at which Chinese leaders will transfer power to a new generation of officials.
There's already been embarrassing controversy over senior Chinese government leader Bo Xilai, whose wife was convicted in the murder of a British businessman. Bo, who's been forced out of government and out of the Communist party, is himself accused of corruption, taking bribes and abusing power. Bo had once been a candidate for top office.