Xiao Jianhua was in 1997, the year of his abduction, one of the richest men in the country and the founder of the Tomorrow conglomerate, an empire with various interests including banking, real estate and insurance.
He vanished in 2017 under mysterious circumstances: Canadian tycoon of Chinese origin Xiao Jianhua, once reputed to be close to senior communist leaders, was sentenced in China on Friday to 13 years in prison for fraud. Xiao Jianhua was one of the country’s richest men at the time and the founder of the Tomorrow conglomerate, an empire with diverse interests including banking, real estate and insurance.
Until his disappearance, Mr. Xiao lived in Hong Kong in an apartment in a multi-star hotel, the Four Seasons, which had the reputation of being a haven for Chinese business magnates. According to press reports at the time, the billionaire was kidnapped at the end of January 2017 by Beijing agents, in defiance of Hong Kong laws which then prohibited Chinese police from operating in the semi-autonomous territory.
The case had caused a stir in the former British colony, which has a legal framework distinct from that in force in mainland China. Since Mr. Xiao’s disappearance, little information had leaked out and the Chinese authorities remained silent on the matter.
The Canadian Embassy in Beijing had nevertheless confirmed last month the opening of the trial but without specifying the charges against its national. No diplomat was able to attend the hearing.
13 years in prison
On Friday, the court sentenced Xiao Jianhua to 13 years in prison. He was found guilty of “embezzlement of public funds”, “illegal use of funds” and corruption, said in a press release the Intermediate People’s Court No. 1 of Shanghai, where the businessman was tried.
Xiao Jianhua is also fined 6.5 million yuan (around 946,000 euros). His conglomerate, Tomorrow, is ordered to pay some 55 billion yuan (8 billion euros). According to press reports, the tycoon had close ties with senior leaders of the ruling Communist Party (CCP) in China.
The businessman may have been a victim of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign which, according to his critics, also serves to target his political opponents and their supporters. The Xiao Jianhua case recalls the “disappearance” in 2015 of five Hong Kong booksellers, known for publishing books with salacious content on the Chinese political class.
All had disappeared to resurface in mainland China, in the hands of the authorities. One of them, Lam Wing-kee, had been allowed to return to Hong Kong, to collect the list of customers from his bookstore and return to China. But he had instead summoned the press to deliver explosive revelations about what had happened to him.
Coming from a poor background, Xiao Jianhua, after studying at the prestigious Peking University, had started selling computers. He was once one of the richest men in China, thanks to the group Tomorrow which he founded.
According to the Hurun ranking of Chinese billionaires, the magnate’s fortune was estimated at some six billion dollars in 2017, the year of his disappearance.