The Canadian embassy in Beijing. Ties between Canada and China have been tested in recent years – Copyright AFP Noel Celis
A Shanghai court said Friday it has sentenced Chinese-Canadian tycoon Xiao Jianhua to 13 years in prison for financial crimes.
Xiao, one of China’s richest people when he was allegedly abducted from a Hong Kong hotel in 2017, reportedly had close connections to the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
There had been no official word about Xiao — who is a Canadian citizen — until Ottawa confirmed in July that he was facing trial.
Xiao was found guilty of “illegally absorbing public deposits… (and) illegal use of funds”, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement.
The Canadian embassy had said in July that its diplomats were denied access to the trial.
Local media in Hong Kong had reported at the time of Xiao’s disappearance that he was snatched by mainland Chinese agents — fuelling fear over Beijing’s tightening influence in the financial hub.
Those fears were at the heart of massive pro-democracy protests that shook Hong Kong in 2019, prompted by a government bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China’s opaque, party-controlled judicial system.
According to the Hurun Report, which ranks China’s wealthiest people, Xiao was worth almost $6 billion in 2017.
He had reportedly denied allegations that he fled to Hong Kong in 2014 to escape a corruption crackdown in China.
Xiao is said to have acted as a broker for the Chinese leadership, including for President Xi Jinping’s family.
“After five years of quietly waiting, our family is still, based on my brother’s strict instructions, putting faith in the Chinese government and Chinese law,” Xiao’s elder brother Xinhua told The Wall Street Journal in June this year.
“It’s very complicated and full of drama,” he said of the case, according to the WSJ.
The years after Xiao’s disappearance have been marked by plummeting relations between China and Canada, sparked by the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou — the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei — at the request of the United States.
Following Meng’s arrest, Beijing detained two Canadians in China and targeted Canadian agricultural exports.
All three were released in September 2021 after Meng reached a deal with US prosecutors on fraud charges, ending her fight against extradition to the United States.
Since then there have been hopes of a thaw in diplomatic relations, with Beijing lifting a ban on Canadian canola imports earlier this year.