Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua, missing for 15 months since vanishing in Hong Kong, ‘could face trial by June’
Tomorrow Group founder may receive lighter treatment for cooperating with China’s crackdown on ‘big crocodiles’
Xiao Jianhua, the mysterious Chinese tycoon who vanished from a luxury Hong Kong hotel over the Lunar New Year weekend in January 2017, is likely to face trial at a Chinese court in May or June, sources in Beijing and Hong Kong have told the South China Morning Post.
If confirmed, it would resolve some of the uncertainty surrounding Xiao, who had built a business empire in China’s underdeveloped capital markets before falling victim to Beijing’s crackdown on oligarchs, nicknamed “big crocodiles”.
“The investigation stage is done and the case has moved to the judicial department,” a Beijing-based source, who declined to be named, told the Post. “The trial could take place very soon.”
A source in Hong Kong, who requested anonymity but has been involved in Xiao’s business deals for a number of years, said Xiao could stand trial before the end of June.
The specific charges Xiao will face remains unknown, but both sources said they would not be as serious as those against Wu Xiaohui, the former chairman of Anbang Insurance Group.
One reason for the potentially lighter treatment of Xiao is the billionaire’s cooperation with the authorities in volunteering information and shrinking his business empire, the sources said.
Wu, in contrast, refused to cooperate and was charged with “fundraising by fraud”, which can be punishable by life imprisonment, according to court documents.
Xiao was persuaded to return to mainland China to help with investigations relating to China’s stock market turmoil of 2015, the Post reported in February 2017.
In the small hours of January 27, two vans arrived at the luxurious Four Seasons Place, where Xiao was staying in one of his several rented serviced flats. Five men left vans at about 1am and knocked on the door of Xiao’s 28th-floor flat before emerging two hours later with Xiao.
Almost 12 hours later, Xiao passed through border controls at the Lok Ma Chau border crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and disappeared into the mainland Chinese city, the Post reported.
The disappearance of Xiao had initially stirred fears in Hong Kong that the agents had violated its rule of law by crossing the border to carry out law enforcement.
Hong Kong’s security minister, Lai Tung-kwok, said later that there was no indication that Xiao had left the city against his will or that mainland public security officers had acted beyond their jurisdiction.
Xiao was reported missing by his family on January 28. The next day, they informed police that Xiao had told his family he was safe.
However, confusion deepened when a statement dated January 31 was issued in Xiao’s name by Tomorrow Group, of which he is founder and chairman, via its official social media account and Hong Kong media, saying that Xiao was having medical treatment abroad and had not been abducted into the mainland.
Before it was removed from Tomorrow Group’s social media account, the statement stated that Xiao was a permanent Hong Kong resident and a Canadian citizen, and that he would face the media “soon”.
A source told the Post that the statement was a result of “miscommunication” and was not true. Xiao has not been seen in public since.
Chinese authorities, including the police, have never provided any information about Xiao’s whereabouts.
A law graduate from Peking University, Xiao used Tomorrow Group as an investment vehicle to acquire stakes in hundreds of corporate entities.
According to a well-informed source last month, Beijing saw this as a potential threat to China’s financial stability and instructed the company to divest 150 billion yuan (US$23.9 billion) worth of assets in 2018 to repay bank loans, after offloading investments of about 100 billion yuan since Xiao returned to the mainland.