Tycoon who disappeared from Hong Kong hotel in 2017 faces trial in China | China

China has officially brought Canadian-Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua to justice, more than five years after his alleged kidnapping in Hong Kong, which rocked the city and sparked fears residents might be forced to disappear.

The Canadian embassy in Beijing confirmed on Monday that Xiao’s trial began this week. “Canadian consular officials are closely monitoring this case, providing consular services to his family and continuing to push for consular access,” the statement said, without specifying the location of the trial and the charges against him.

A previous Wall Street Journal report suggested that Xiao would likely be charged with illegal confiscation of public funds, which carries a prison sentence of five years or more, depending on the severity. Since his disappearance, Xiao has been held first in the eastern province of Jiangsu and most recently in Shanghai.

By 2017, Xiao, 50, was one of mainland China’s wealthiest businessmen with high-level ties to the ruling Communist Party. Xiao, who was a student leader at the prestigious Peking University in 1989, sided with the government during student protests and later became wealthy during the country’s economic boom.

Xiao got rich selling personal computers after he graduated. It was worth $6 billion (£4.94 billion) in 2016, with investments in banking and insurance through a variety of complex structures, according to research group Hurun Report. Chinese news reports suggested that Xiao had worked on behalf of a number of elite Chinese families over the years.

Xiao’s fortune, a reclusive but well-respected figure in the country’s investment circles, was turned on its head in January 2017 when he was allegedly thrown out of Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel in a wheelchair by plainclothes Chinese security agents, which was not the case at the time Fall was allowed to operate in Hong Kong.

He was then taken across the border into China, possibly by boat, to evade immigration controls, according to a New York Times report.

Hong Kong police said at the time he crossed the border into mainland China. His company Tomorrow Group also said he was on the mainland. Still, the episode rocked Hong Kong at a time when Beijing was gaining influence. Two years earlier, five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared from various locations in Asia and then reappeared in mainland China.

Authorities in China have remained silent on Xiao’s case, which has reportedly been linked to an anti-corruption campaign championed by China’s President Xi Jinping.

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In a 2014 statement in response to a New York Times profile, Xiao’s spokesman said he benefited not from his political connections but from Warren Buffett’s value investing strategy.

“After studying Mr. Warren Buffett’s business philosophy, Mr. Xiao thought that being involved in business might better suit his character,” said Yu Lan, a spokesman for Tomorrow Group. “From then on, Mr. Xiao completely stayed away from politics and focused on business and investment.”

Immediately after reports of Xiao’s disappearance surfaced in 2017, investors began selling shares related to Xiao’s company. In the summer of 2020, Chinese regulators seized billions of dollars in assets linked to Tomorrow Group, which Xiao had controlled for over two decades.

A year later, state-owned investment firm China Chengtong Holdings Group Ltd announced that it would acquire a majority stake in an investment firm affiliated with Tomorrow Group.

In Hong Kong, the alleged kidnapping of Xiao in 2017 increased suspicions of Beijing’s influence in an area guaranteed to be governed by “one country, two systems”. These fears were at the heart of major protests that rocked Hong Kong two years later. Hong Kong residents fear a draft law would allow extraditions to mainland China’s opaque judicial system.

In response to the protests, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020. This law allowed its security agencies to operate in the city and brought down the legal firewall between the mainland and Hong Kong courts.

For Xiao’s family, this week’s journey could put an end to a long wait. “After five years of quiet waiting, based on my brother’s strict instructions, our family still has faith in the Chinese government and Chinese law,” Xiao’s older brother told Xinhua last month. “It’s very complicated and full of drama,” he said.

Additional coverage from AFP