The Panama Papers

China's business elite fuel firm's growth

BEIJING • Beverage magnate Zong Qinghou, once China's richest man, and retail tycoon Shen Guojun are among several Chinese businessmen linked to offshore entities through files leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

According to the documents, Mr Shen was a shareholder of Dragon Stream, a firm incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in 2008. Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan was also listed as a shareholder in the firm. Mr Shen, who founded China's shopping mall chain Intime, is believed to be worth around US$2.3 billion (S$3.1 billion).

Mr Zong's daughter Kelly Zong Fuli bought a BVI firm, Purple Mystery Investments, through Mossack Fonseca in February last year, with the purpose of "investment in China".

Mr Zong of the Wahaha Group, China's richest man in 2012 but now its third, is worth US$21 billion.

Chinese clients' growing penchant for offshore entities have helped Mossack Fonseca's rapid expansion in the greater China region and its ascent as one of the world's top creators of offshore companies.

After setting up its first office in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui in August 1989, the firm took another decade before establishing its first office in mainland China in 2000.

Now, Mossack Fonseca's presence is found in eight cities: Shenzhen, Ningbo, Qingdao, Dalian, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Jinan.

Experts say China's business elite could be tapping offshore firms in Hong Kong for its proximity and lax rules, to get round China's capital controls, so as to move money out to buy overseas property or businesses. Other reasons include squirreling away ill-gotten gains or helping political allies carry out business deals.

An earlier investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2014 unearthed nearly 22,000 owners of offshore firms from mainland China and Hong Kong.

They included real estate mogul Zhang Xin, co-founders of Internet giant Tencent Mr Pony Ma and Mr Zhang Zhidong, as well as relatives of former president Hu Jintao and late strongman Deng Xiaoping.

Kor Kian Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'China's business elite fuel firm's growth'. Print Edition | Subscribe