Wen Jiabao Family Disputes Wealth Story

Premier Wen Jiabao's family members have threatened possible legal action over a media report which claimed they amassed vast riches as his power grew in the Chinese political system, according to Hong Kong media.

Wen Jiabao Family Disputes Wealth Story
Feng Li | Getty Images

Two lawyers representing Mr Wen's family said the New York Times story about the family's $2.7bn fortune was "untrue". It is extremely rare in China for top political leaders to criticise foreign media reports directly in public and to raise the possibility of legal action.

"The so-called 'hidden riches' of Wen Jiabao's family members in The New York Times' report does not exist," the lawyers wrote in a statement that was published on Sunday in the South China Morning Post and Sing Tao Daily, two of Hong Kong's top newspapers, and also broadcast on Hong Kong television.

In the statement, the lawyers said of the New York Times that they would "reserve the right to hold it legally responsible".

When Bloomberg published an account earlier this year about the assets held by the family of Xi Jinping, the man expected to be the country's next president, its website was blocked in China. But Mr Xi's family never published a statement challenging the article.

The claims in the New York Times were seen as very damaging for Mr Wen because he has tried to cultivate a reputation of being "the people's premier" who wants to stamp out corruption and bring greater transparency in government.

Coming just two weeks before China launches a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, analysts say the allegations that Mr Wen's family has reaped huge financial rewards from his time in office could limit his ability to wield influence over the country's politics – which is common after leaders retire in China – after he steps aside.

In the statement, the lawyers said Mr Wen had never played any role in the business activities of his family members or allowed their business concerns to affect "his formulation and execution of policies".

The New York Times story detailed how several members of Mr Wen's family, including his mother, wife and son, had grown wealthier over the past 20 years, particularly since he reached the apex of political power in Beijing 10 years ago.

The story did not include any claim that Mr Wen himself had accumulated assets, benefited personally from his family's riches or helped them obtain their wealth.

The New York Times defended the article, saying it was "standing by our story". The New York Times website in China remains blocked two days after the article was published. The Bloomberg website is still inaccessible four months after its article about the Xi family.

The lawyers whose names were on the Wen family statement were Bai Tao of Jun He Law Offices and Wang Weidong of Grandall Law Firm. Neither responded to requests for comment by email and phone calls to both went unanswered.