Canadian diplomats have been denied access to the trial of dual citizen Xiao Jianhua, according to Ottawa’s embassy in Beijing.
“Canada made several requests to attend the trial proceedings. Our attendance was denied by Chinese authorities,” the embassy said in a short statement.
The 50-year-old Chinese-Canadian tycoon’s trial is understood to have opened in Shanghai on Monday, five years after his disappearance from Hong Kong’s luxury Four Seasons Hotel.
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The charges against Xiao who once headed one of China’s largest private business conglomerates spanning insurance, brokerage, mining and other interests were not disclosed.
However, a Wall Street Journal report said he was accused of illegally collecting public deposits, a charge that could lead to more than 10 years in jail, depending on the amounts involved.
Criminal cases in China usually result in convictions and the exact charge and amount of money involved will be key to Xiao’s punishment.
The Chinese government and mainland media have been quiet about the trial, but there have been reports that Xiao was initially detained in Suzhou after his disappearance from Hong Kong in January 2017, before being transferred to Shanghai.
It is unclear how long the trial will last and how much sensitive information may be disclosed about Xiao’s connections with Chinese political elites.
In 2007, Caijing magazine reported that Xiao had teamed up with Zeng Wei, the son of powerful former vice-president Zeng Qinghong, in the controversial takeover of state-owned conglomerate Shandong Luneng.
A 2014 report by The New York Times said a review of corporate records showed Xiao had business links with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sister and brother-in-law, as well as the son-in-law of powerful former state leader Jia Qinglin.
In a response to the Times article, Xiao confirmed that a company he co-founded had stepped in to buy shares held by Xi’s sister and her husband the previous year.
Since his detention, Xiao’s Tomorrow Group has been dismantled step by step, with financial regulators seising control of several insurers, trust firms and stock brokerages linked to him.
In 2019, China’s central bank and banking regulator took control of Baoshang Bank a key part of Xiao’s business empire after major shareholder Tomorrow Group failed to repay 56 billion yuan (US$22.3 billion) in loans.
According to the regulator, the loans were obtained through flawed corporate governance and mismanagement.
Xiao, who has property investments in Canada in addition to citizenship, spent several years in a serviced flat at the Four Seasons Hotel, accompanied by female bodyguards. He reportedly had a sense that he could be targeted by Chinese authorities.
Exactly how he ended up in the mainland after vanishing from the hotel remains a mystery, though Hong Kong police said he had crossed the border peacefully with travel documents.