China firm denies corruption in Swiss deal
A Chinese tycoon has denied allegations the daughter of a former leader brokered an illegal deal for Swiss giant Zurich Insurance to buy into one of his companies, state media reported on Monday.
Britain's Telegraph newspaper said last week that Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, helped arrange a multi-million-dollar deal in 1995 for Zurich to buy into a Chinese insurer — long before foreign companies were allowed to make such investments.
The Telegraph said Li introduced Zurich executives to three Chinese businessmen, including the chairman of a conglomerate called Orient Group, who held a majority stake in New China Life.
Zurich bought almost a quarter of New China Life after it paid the businessmen $16.9 million as a "good faith fee", some of which was used to bribe government officials to allow the deal, the Telegraph said.
Its allegations were reported in unusual detail Monday by Chinese state-run media, which often ignore overseas revelations of officials' wrongdoing.
"The woman surnamed Li mentioned in media reports never participated in any business operations of the company and affiliated firms," Orient Group chairman Zhang Hongwei said in a statement quoted by the Beijing Times newspaper.
It did not give Li Xiaolin's full name, nor did it identify her as the daughter of Li Peng, who was China's premier under President Jiang Zemin in the mid-1990s.
"Related issues claimed by the reports are purely vicious slander," Zhang said in the statement, which was posted on the firm's website on Sunday.
Zurich Insurance could not be immediately reached for comment.
Li herself has also dismissed the allegations through Hong Kong-based China Power International Development, a company she chairs.
"Li Xiaolin has never had any personal dealings with any insurance firm, nor does she know anyone from such companies," the firm said in a statement.
"The online rumour regarding the insurance transaction is purely vicious slander," it added.
The Telegraph report came amid an intensifying crackdown by Communist Party officials on corruption, which infuriates ordinary Chinese.