Chinese censors have taken down reports concerning property tycoon Wang Jianlin’s speech at Harvard University in which the country’s richest man responded to corruption allegations related to President Xi Jinping.

Wang, owner of Dalian Wanda Group, was asked to comment last Friday on a New York Times report which linked the company’s success to ties with high-level government officials and their families including Xi’s sister Qi Qiaoqiao and brother-in-law Deng Jiagui. Wang defended Xi and said his company “has no background [with officials].” But he did confirm the couple’s company was a former shareholder of Wanda.

Mainland media have taken down reports about Wang’s speech. Photo: HKFP.

On Saturday, the company published a video and full script of its chairman’s speech on its official website, including the question and answer session where Xi was mentioned. Wanda’s public relations department also sent the unedited script to financial reporters, including some in Taiwan, according to Apple Daily.

Wang’s speech was widely reported in China, with many online news portals focusing on Wang’s comments regarding official ties. But, by Monday morning, most reports had been taken down, so had the page on Wanda’s website.

An unwanted defence

In the New York Times report, published in April last year, Wanda was said to have powerful shareholders from the families of multiple Chinese leaders including former prime minister Wen Jiabao, Xi and his predecessor Hu Jintao.

Wang only responded to claims about Xi.

“Let me tell you the truth. In July, August, 2009, the Wanda Commercial Properties, under the Wanda Group, held a private equity funding round in order to solve capital problems. We entrusted Galaxy Securities and CICC to look for investors for us. They talked to 70 and 80 companies. In the end more than ten companies invested, including Chairman Xi’s brother-in-law Mr. Deng’s Qichuan Dadi Investment Company.”

Dalian Wanda Group promoted Wang’s speech on its website.

Deng did not receive any favours as his company bought Wanda’s shares at the same price as all the other investors, Wang said. Deng also sold his shares before Wanda Commercial Properties went public in Hong Kong last year, giving up what could have been huge gains, according to Wang.

“Two months before the public listing, Mr. Deng sold his shares at a relatively low price, in fact he sacrificed huge gains. He bought the shares at a normal price, the public listing was normal, he could have received huge gains but gave up. I think he must have been affected or under pressure. This proves [he] is not corrupt, and it proves Chairman Xi is strict in ruling the country, but even stricter in managing his family.”

Still fishy

However, in a report on Friday, the New York Times said that it is likely that Qi and Deng are still controlling the shares. The US newspaper said the couple sold Qichuan Dadi Investment Company to an employee who may act as their cover.

“In defending the company’s ties with Mr. Xi’s relatives, Mr. Wang may have inadvertently drawn attention to a common practice among wealthy and powerful Chinese people: the transfer of shares, sometimes to distant relatives or business associates, to mask business interests,” the report said.

Dalian Wanda Group is China’s biggest commercial property developer and the world’s largest cinema chain operator. In August this year, Wang surpassed Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing to be the richest Chinese person in the world. According to Forbes, he is now worth US$32.7 billion, or HK$253.4 billion.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.