Canada’s embassy in Beijing announced over the weekend that Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire who vanished from his hotel room in Hong Kong in 2017 after the Chinese government accused him of corruption, was scheduled to go on trial in mainland China on Monday, according to the South China Morning Post.
Xiao, who was born in China but acquired Canadian citizenship, has not been seen in public since his disappearance in Hong Kong. Following his disappearance, it emerged that Xiao had been escorted from his hotel in a wheelchair by two Chinese plainclothes agents—a violation of Hong Kong law, which at the time forbade mainland law enforcement from operating in the territory—and brought into China on a boat, evading customs. The charges against Xiao remain unknown.
“Global Affairs Canada, our home office, is aware that a trial in the case of Canadian citizen Mr. Xiao Jianhua will take place today,” the Canadian embassy told Reuters on Monday. “Canadian consular officials are monitoring this case closely, providing consular services to his family and continu[ing] to press for consular access” to the trial.
At the time of his disappearance, Xiao was considered the thirty-second-wealthiest man in China, with a net worth of slightly less than $6 billion. His flagship company, Tomorrow Holding Co., later fell under investigation by China’s anti-corruption watchdog agency, and nine of its related institutions were temporarily seized for a period of one year in July 2020. The seizure period was renewed for a second year in July 2021; it is scheduled to expire on July 16. The Chinese government also seized Baoshang Bank, a bank operated by the Tomorrow Group, and forced it to declare bankruptcy, citing its inability to repay its loans.
Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s rise to power, large Chinese corporations have increasingly come under investigation and business leaders have faced criminal charges amid a wide-ranging crackdown on private-sector corruption. Prior to Xiao’s arrest, Jiang Jemin, the former director of China’s state-run China National Petroleum Corporation, was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for bribery in 2015. Ai Baojun, an iron and steel magnate who later served as Vice Mayor of Shanghai, was imprisoned for seventeen years on corruption charges.
Xiao, who was known for his close ties to several powerful families in China and was once described by the New York Times as a “banker for the ruling class,” took Canadian citizenship in 2008 and automatically forfeited his Chinese citizenship since China does not recognize dual nationality. After his disappearance, it emerged that he had acquired a diplomatic passport from Antigua and Barbuda in early 2017 which possibly suggested an intent to go into exile.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.