Beijing is of course censoring coverage of the Panama Papers. And the (mid-Alibaba-transition) South China Morning Post’s print edition today omits any mention of the story (unless my eyes are going) in its local, China, international and business sections.
The China Digital Times article ends by saying:
…the flight of new wealth from legal and political uncertainty in mainland China [is] a major contributor to this boom [in offshore/tax havens holdings]. The prominent position of Hong Kong in Mossack Fonseca’s operations may hint at the scale of this…
The Standard does mention the story, not least for the celebrity angle…
Many right-thinking people would relish conclusive evidence that actor Jackie Chan has engaged in illegal activities. But his use of shell companies – a conventional way to hold or trade property or other investments – tells us nothing. Similarly, the rich folks’ funds managed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s father are (unless the guy’s an idiot) probably using offshore facilities legitimately. ‘People take advantage of legal loopholes’ is not really a story. Maybe global revulsion following the mega-leak will provoke a clampdown on privacy and tax avoidance, but don’t hold your breath.
The real murk concerns figures who are not supposed to be ultra-wealthy in the first place – or more accurately, such esteemed personages’ aides and relatives. These include such obvious suspects as the Putin entourage, FIFA and Ukrainians. And China’s elite. It’s all guilt by association, of course.
This means we can’t be sure whether Hong Kong’s world-beating role in these offshore financial services reflects our local professionalism and expertise in respectable, squeaky-clean wealth-management, or – heaven forbid – our user-friendliness to the Mainland’s Communist-kleptocrat elite as a centre for laundering the proceeds of corruption and embezzlement. No doubt further details from the Panama Papers will confirm that Asia’s World City has nothing to hide.
After all, if HSBC are so cautious that they won’t even let Joshua Wong’s new group open an account, they’re not going to offer services to some sleazebag relative of a former Politburo henchman, are they?
Still, to be safe, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing shoe-shiners might choose this moment to keep their heads down. Instead, we get tobacco-monopoly scion/media tycoon Charles Ho going embarrassingly adolescent on the aforementioned Joshua. And property tycoon/Tourism Board boss/movie-backer Peter Lam whines about Ten Years winning Best Movie at the HK Film Awards.
The truth is that Lam is pandering to Beijing by publically opposing the low-budget ‘dystopian’ flick (which would have passed relatively unnoticed but for the Communist Party’s mouth-frothing censorship-tantrum). But such obsequiousness would look bad, so he wants us to believe that he opposes the judges’ choice because the awards should recognize movies as business investments rather than art. Being ridiculously shallow looks more sophisticated and credible, you see.