A home for all seasons

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-1 20:43:01

Luxury Hong Kong hotel becomes refuge for mainlanders fleeing anti-graft campaign


Zhang Dayong (pseudonym) has been stuck in Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong for half a year since he decided to "take flight."

Almost all the region's wealthy and famous, at one time or another, have stayed at this luxury hotel, which is located in heart of Hong Kong's financial district, news portal finance.qq.com reported on Wednesday.

Zhang has seen many showbiz stars and business tycoons in the hotel. But the residents he sees most often are the ones like him rich - mainlanders eluding possible trouble from the Chinese mainland's ongoing anti-corruption campaign, the report said.

However, the report was later taken down from its website.

When Zhang learned earlier this year he might be investigated, he immediately left for Hong Kong. He keeps his head down there, visiting friends to keep tabs on the case he was connected with, but otherwise staying aloof from his relatives and friends in the mainland. He spends most of his time in the hotel's outdoor swimming pool.

As the anti-graft campaign has gathered steam during the past two years, more and more people like Zhang have gathered in hotel. When they greet each other in its Michelin three-star restaurant, it is not with "hello" or "how are you", but "How's your case?"

Corrupt gathering

Chinese government is now seeking to widen the campaign to those who have fled abroad, in an operation called "Fox Hunt 2014", with the goal of "blocking the last route of retreat" for corrupt officials, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Since the beginning of the campaign, more than 50 officials at the provincial and ministerial level or higher have been investigated for corruption and other serious disciplinary violations, Xinhua reported on November 3.

With the campaign strengthening, Xu Zhendong, chairman of the Beida Jade Bird Group, fled to the Four Seasons Hotel in early March, China Youth Daily reported in September. 

In March, Su Daren, whom previous reports named as Baida Jade Bird's president - a link which the company now denies - was put under investigation. Allegedly due to his involvement in Su's case, Xu has since stayed in Hong Kong, China Business Journal reported in April.

Some rumors suggested that Xu had booked an entire floor of the hotel. Zhang told finance.qq.com that Xu only booked a suite, but it was possible that his entourage occupied other rooms, or even the entire floor.

Like Zhang, Xu has not returned to the mainland.

Xing Libin, former president of Liansheng Group, a large coal company in Shanxi Province, hid himself in the hotel when he learned he would be investigated. Zhang recalled that when Xing learned he was "safe," he went back to Shanxi. Unfortunately, he was taken away for investigation soon after his return.

As a coal-rich province, Shanxi has seen more inspections of high-ranking officials in the anti-graft campaign than any other provinces since Jin Daoming, former vice chairman of the Shanxi Provincial People's Congress Standing Committee, was called in for investigation by central disciplinary watchdog in February. 

Zhang said that rich people from one province often arrive at the hotel in groups. For instance, when the probe into corruption in Shanxi began earlier this year, many businessmen from Shanxi checked into the hotel more or less simultaneously.

Why this hotel

Before the Four Seasons Hotel reportedly became a shelter for rich fugitives, it has been already a favorite among affluent mainlanders. The hotel is a preferred site for social functions organized by the Hong Kong branches of mainland official bodies and companies, as well as for listed companies and local governments from the mainland seeking to attract investment, finance.sina.com reported on Friday.

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma Yun, China's richest man, was photographed with Hong Kong's former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in the hotel several days ago.

But now, the hotel has become a place where well-informed mainland businessmen meet to swap information on their cases.

Xiao Jianhua, founder of the Tomorrow Group, is said to be better informed than most. "It's an honor to get to know Xiao, but not everyone can talk to him," said Zhang, who was unable to land a meeting with Xiao.

Zhang said another well informed source is an unnamed shareholder with a Macao-based casino. He often dines with mainland businessmen, revealing information about mainland officials who may soon be investigated.

Zhang said he did not believe the man's predictions, until they started coming true.

Asylum or placebo?

What matters for the alleged fugitives staying in the Four Seasons is not the hotel, but the city where it is located. Anglo-American common law was maintained after the 1997 hand-over to China, making it a safe haven for those fleeing investigations.

International repatriation practices, which apply in Hong Kong but not in the mainland, bar extraditing criminals who may face the death penalty.

As a result, it is difficult for Hong Kong authorities to return corrupt mainlanders, said Tony Kwok, former deputy commissioner with the Hong Kong Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).

But "Hong Kong is not a land of outlaws," Hao Junbo, a Beijing-based lawyer, was quoted by finance.qq.com as saying.

Hong Kong and the mainland have cooperated on combating graft since the 1990s, even before the region's return to China in 1997.

Beginning in April 2000, the Supreme People's Procuratorate directly participated in a Mutual Cases Assistance Scheme, which was set up between the Guangdong provincial procuratorate and the ICAC in 1990, to handle requests from the ICAC for cases outside Guangdong Province.

In addition, the most recent APEC Ministerial Meeting in Beijing agreed on an anti-corruption plan that will set up a law enforcement network to conduct cross-border anti-graft cooperation, Xinhua reported on November 8.

"Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and several Pacific Island countries and regions are the first stop for some fugitive officials. But if the [APEC plan] is implemented, those springboards will become precipices," Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, was quoted by Xinhua.

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