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Beijing targets family assets in city graft probe

Beijing is launching an investigation into alleged corrupt dealings by the spouses and children of officials in the city’s municipal government, in a pointed reminder to more powerful residents of the city to rein in their relatives’ behaviour.

An audit of their assets would take place next year and on a rotating basis in subsequent years, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday night.

Like London or Washington, Beijing is home to both a national and a city government. Corruption at the national level offers access to greater amounts of money and power but local-level corruption is usually a much larger irritant in citizens’ daily lives.

Municipal graft in Beijing has been exacerbated by the flow of national fiscal resources into the Chinese capital and a property bubble that gives officials in charge of zoning potential opportunities to accumulate riches.

Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, has pledged to catch both powerful “tigers” and lower-ranking “flies” in an anti-corruption purge now in its fourth year.

However, China has so far not required public disclosure of assets held by officials or their families. Briefings to foreign journalists after last month’s Communist party plenum indicated there were no immediate plans for such “sunshine laws”.

Some have criticised the government strategy, saying it will be ineffective in the absence of appropriate laws and robust institutions. Anti-corruption measures and attempts to repatriate fugitive officials “should also aim to enhance checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power and increase awareness of the value of integrity”, Hu Shuli, chief editor of the reform-minded financial publication Caixin, wrote in an editorial this week.

The Xinhua announcement follows an initiative earlier this year to track business networks across the country that are controlled by the families of officials in some of China’s largest cities.

Chinese media avoid reporting most corruption allegations involving officials at the level of national ministers or higher, unless the party has denounced the official.

But four years of high-profile anti-corruption cases have revealed that assets are often held in the names of officials’ relatives. Many corrupt or simply ambitious officials also form an association with a private businessman who acts as a go-between, arranging favours and helping with any other needs.

Foreigners living in the Chinese capital are usually immune from the bureaucratic rent-seeking or police shakedowns that haunt Chinese citizens. But in recent years, there have been cases where foreign residents of Beijing’s gated villa communities have fallen foul of corrupt property management companies that belong to military families’ patronage networks, with some forced from their homes following disputes.

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Via FT