Two more Chinese leaders have been linked to alleged offshore dealings through their relatives, according to a massive leak of tax documents, even as the government and media avoided the topic, which may have political repercussions.
British broadcaster BBC, one of about 100 media outfits worldwide that reviewed the files leaked from a Panama-based law firm, said yesterday that there were links to propaganda czar Liu Yunshan, who ranks fifth in the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), and executive vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who ranks last.
Without giving details, the BBC said the in-laws of both men are listed as directors or shareholders in offshore firms in tax havens.
This is similar to the case for Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose brother-in-law Deng Jiagui was listed as the sole director and shareholder of two British Virgin Islands- based firms set up in 2009 through law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The leaked files also show links to two other retired PSC members: former premier Li Peng and former political adviser Jia Qinglin, whose daughter and granddaughter, respectively, set up or ran British Virgin Islands firms.
There are reportedly links to at least eight current or former members of the PSC, headed by Mr Xi.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, when asked at a regular briefing yesterday if there would be investigations, said: "We do not comment on groundless reports."
Chinese state media have largely avoided reporting on the cache of 11.5 million documents, known as the Panama Papers, which give details of hidden financial dealings of 140 political figures worldwide.
Web information on the documents also appeared blocked, with searches for "Panama Papers" on Chinese search engines either leading to stories of sports stars named in the leak, or error pages saying the results "may not accord with relevant laws and rules so can't be shown".
The data was leaked by an anonymous source of German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
While the documents detail financial arrangements benefiting the world's elite, they do not necessarily mean the schemes are all illegal.
According to the ICIJ, most of the services the offshore industry provides can be used for legal purposes and are used by law-abiding customers. But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players often fail to follow legal requirements to make sure clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or political corruption.
As part of Mr Xi's anti-graft drive, launched in late 2012, the Chinese Communist Party has taken steps to bar officials and family members from profiting through their posts.
The party-linked Global Times tabloid reported the leak in an editorial yesterday but made no mention of Chinese leaders. It accused the Western media and, particularly, the United States of using the leaked documents to attack non-Western leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose associates are named, while minimising coverage of information that hurts US interests.
Analysts say China is limiting coverage to minimise public unhappiness that relatives of top leaders have hidden their business dealings and criticisms that the anti-graft drive has left out certain families.
Beijing-based anti-graft expert Ren Jianming said the revelations, especially the alleged links to current PSC members, could have a negative impact on the political authority of the leaders and legitimacy of the anti-graft campaign.