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China scrambles to nullify 'Panama Papers' references to own leaders

China's censors have been working hard since the "Panama Papers" were released to ensure the leaks do not penetrate China’s "Great Firewall" of Internet control. It is also flat out denying the leaks have any substance.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R), Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Xi Jinping (2nd L) and US President Barack Obama (L)

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R), Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Xi Jinping (2nd L) and US President Barack Obama (L)

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular press briefing Tuesday in Beijing that he would not discuss the reports and declined to say whether the individuals named would be investigated.

"For these groundless accusations, I have no comment," Hong told reporters.

An open secret

China seems to be adopting a strategy of ignoring, censoring and blaming others for the allegations contained in the leaked documents.

The reports say a Panamanian law firm - Mossack Fonseca - had arranged offshore companies for relatives of at least eight present or past members of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, including the brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping (pictured above).

The hidden wealth of Chinese leaders and their families has been known for years, but Chinese leaders are very adept at hiding the news from their citizens.

Controlling the Internet

A censorship notice sent Tuesday by a Chinese provincial Internet office reportedly told editors to delete reports on the leaks.

"If material from foreign media attacking China is found on any website, it will be dealt with severely," the notice said. China Digital Times said it did not name the body issuing the notice to protect its source.

According to China Digital Times, a website affiliated with the University of California that monitors the Chinese Internet, the top censored phrases monitored on Monday on Weibo - China's Google equivalent - by the University of Hong Kong's Weiboscope all appeared to be related to the

Panama Papers

: tax evasion, file, leaked, Putin and company.

The company logo of Mossack Fonseca is seen inside the office of Mossack Fonseca & Co. (Asia) Limited in Hong Kong, China April 5, 2016

The company logo of Mossack Fonseca is seen inside the office of Mossack Fonseca & Co. (Asia) Limited in Hong Kong, China April 5, 2016

Kill the messenger

The tabloid Global Times published an editorial Tuesday saying an unidentified "powerful force" was behind the leak, adding that the main targets of the leaks were opponents of the West, especially Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it. Information that is negative to the US can always be minimized, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin," the People's Daily reported. It made no mention of any involvement by Chinese figures.

Members of the Group of 20 - which includes China - have agreed on paper to tighten laws relating to shell companies and make sure authorities can find out who the real owners are. Actual legislation at the national level has lagged behind the promises, however.

jbh/jil (AP/AFP)

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