Chinese authorities have prevented Canadian diplomats from attending the trial of a Chinese-Canadian tycoon who disappeared from Hong Kong five years ago, Canada’s government said on Tuesday.
Xiao Jianhua disappeared from Hong Kong in January 2017, when Chinese security agents are believed to have abducted the billionaire from the luxury hotel he had been staying at.
Chinese authorities have not confirmed whether he was in prison or what charges he might face.
Canada’s embassy in Beijing had said on Monday that Xiao was due to stand trial that day but has not confirmed whether a trial took place or provided details of possible charges.
“Canada made several requests to attend the trial proceedings. Our attendance was denied by Chinese authorities,” the Canadian government said in a statement on Tuesday.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday he was not aware of the situation, when asked about Xiao’s trial at a media briefing.
Chinese-born Xiao, who is known to have links to the ruling Communist Party elite, vanished amid a flurry of prosecutions of Chinese business people accused of wrongdoing. The Tomorrow Group founder’s disappearance at the time raised fears that Chinese authorities were operating outside of their legal authority in Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system under the “one country, two systems” formula that is supposed to guarantee the city unique freedoms until at least 2047.
Since then, Beijing has dramatically curtailed civil liberties in the former British colony, using a sweeping national security law to effectively wipe out all political opposition and force the closure of media outlets and civil society organisations.
Xiao, who was reportedly whisked away from his hotel in a wheelchair with his head covered, was ranked 32nd on the 2016 Hurun China rich list, with an estimated net worth of $5.97bn at the time.
In 2020, regulators seized nine Tomorrow Group-related institutions as part of a crackdown on risks posed by financial conglomerates.
The seizures followed the takeover by regulators of Baoshang Bank, a lender once controlled by Tomorrow, in 2019.
Numerous politicians, bankers and executives at big Chinese companies have been investigated or prosecuted in recent years amid a sweeping anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Those who have fallen from grace over alleged corruption include Jiang Jiemin, a former head of China National Petroleum Corp, and Ai Baojun, a former chairman of Baoshan Iron and Steel who later became vice mayor of Shanghai.