Missing mainland billionaire Xiao Jianhua received a diplomatic passport from Antigua and Barbuda just days before President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang met the prime minister of the tiny Caribbean nation in Beijing.
A copy of the passport – which was issued on August 8, 2014, and expired on the same date in 2016 – was passed to the South China Morning Post by a senior Antiguan diplomat, who said the 45-year-old tycoon was appointed as an "ambassador-at-large" for the country because of his extensive network.
The top-level meetings in the Great Hall of the People were followed by announcements of substantial investments in the country by China.
It was not clear if the diplomatic passport was renewed after it expired, but Xiao's appointment as ambassador-at-large for the country almost a year after being granted the document by Prime Minister Gaston Browne was extremely rare.
The only other recipient is Hollywood movie legend Robert De Niro, who along with Australian casino mogul James Packer, has pledged to invest US$250 million in the Caribbean island nation.
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In an interview with the Post, Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador Extraordinary to the United States, said Xiao was granted special diplomatic status because of his "contacts with high level and high net-worth individuals who could benefit our nation's economy".
"Mr Xiao was granted the position for our country's benefit, not his benefit," Sanders said.
Xiao's whereabouts remain unknown after he disappeared in mysterious circumstances from his residence in the five-star Four Seasons Hotel in Central last month, sparking renewed concerns over possible unauthorised mainland law enforcement activity in Hong Kong.