The New York Times has announced that access to its website is being blocked inside China after it published an investigation into wealth accumulated by relatives of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
In its report, the New York Times said Wen Jiabao’s family members “have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion”.
Holdings included property, insurance and construction firms, it said.
Both the NYT‘s Chinese and English sites are blocked, as are references to the report on micro-blogging sites.
“Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership,” the newspaper wrote in a lengthy report.
“In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners.”
The family’s investments reportedly spanned several sectors. The newspaper cited one holding as Ping An, an insurance company which it said had benefited from reforms enacted in 2004 by a state body over which Wen Jiabao had oversight.
It said that partnerships controlled by Wen Jiabao’s relatives, along with their friends and colleagues, had bought into the firm before its IPO, or stock market flotation, in 2004, and held as much as $2.2bn in the company in 2007.
The newspaper said both the Chinese government and Wen Jiabao’s relatives declined to comment on the investigation, which was based on corporate records from 1992-2012.
No holdings were found in Wen Jiaobao’s name, it said, nor was it possible “to determine from the documents whether he recused himself from any decisions that might have affected his relatives’ holdings, or whether they received preferential treatment on investments”.
China is sensitive about reports on its leaders, particularly when it comes to their wealth.
A growing wealth gap is causing public discontent, as are the frequent corruption scandals involving government officials.
When, in June 2012, a Bloomberg investigative report examined the finances of the relatives of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, the company’s website was blocked in China – even though the report said there was no indication of wrongdoing by him or his family.
Wen Jiabao has been the Chinese premier for almost 10 years. He is due to step down in a power transition that begins on 8 November.
He is seen as a popular figure with the common touch, and is portrayed in state media as a leader with great concern for the lives of ordinary people.
A spokeswoman for the New York Times said she hoped that full access to the websites would be “restored shortly” in China.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo platforms, keywords such as Wen Jiabao and the New York Times are blocked. Wen Jiabao’s name, like most other Chinese leaders, has always been a screened keyword.
Some netizens did manage to post the article despite heavy and rapid censorship. A Sina Weibo user tweeted about the article from Kawagoe city in Japan, but his post was removed after 11 minutes.
“The Twist Your Waist Times says the best actor has $2.7bn of assets. I just wonder how will he spend it?” asked a Tencent Weibo user registered in the British West Indies territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
“Twist your waist” in Chinese characters sounds like New York when spoken, while “best actor” refers to Wen Jiabao, who critics say only pretends to be a people-first leader.
• Became premier in March 2003, charged with overseeing the economy
• Portrayed in state media as a man who cares for the public
• Began career in provincial geology bureau but was quickly promoted
• Seen as a economic reformist critical of Bo Xilai’s “Chongqing model” and “Red” policies