China has apparently expelled a New York Times journalist after the paper ran a damaging report about the hidden wealth of outgoing premier Wen Jiabao and his family, overseas media reported.
Australian national Chris Buckley, who recently re-joined The New York Times after working as a correspondent for Reuters, left Beijing on Monday evening with his family after his application for renewal of residency and accreditation was ignored, according to Australian media.
The move follows a report in The New York Times on Oct. 25, which wasn't attributed to Buckley, detailing hidden assets of at least U.S.$2.7 billion owned or controlled by Wen's relatives.
According to a report from Australia's Fairfax newspaper group, Buckley had received no official explanation of the refusal to renew his paperwork.
Buckley rejoined the paper in September after working for Reuters, according to a New York Times report on Monday.
"The Times applied for Mr. Buckley to be accredited to replace a correspondent who was reassigned, but the authorities did not act before Dec. 31, despite numerous requests. That forced Mr. Buckley, his partner and their daughter to fly to Hong Kong on Monday," the paper said.
It said that requests to transfer visas are normally processed in a matter of weeks or a couple of months; however, the paper's new Beijing bureau chief, Philip P. Pan, was also still awaiting accreditation after applying for the visa in March.
The report on the Wen family billions sparked an increasingly vocal public campaign for a "sunshine law" that would require high-ranking Party officials to declare their own and their family's assets.
While the new leadership headed by president-in-waiting Xi Jinping has warned that the ruling Chinese Communist Party must tackle corruption if it is to remain in power, and has banned lavish official functions and special traffic controls for official visits, no response has been forthcoming over the declaration of assets.
Xi himself was the subject of a similar expose by Bloomberg in June, after which Chinese Internet censors blocked access to the news agency's website.
China performed poorly this year in a global corruption index, amid one of the most damaging political scandals to hit the ruling Chinese Communist Party in two decades.
Published this month by Berlin-based Transparency International, which measures perceptions of corruption around the world, the survey ranked mainland China 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from last year.
The New York Times report also prompted authorities to block access to the paper's Chinese and English-language websites.
Buckley was a veteran member of the Beijing press corps, frequently invited at heavily stage-managed official press events to ask key questions, one of which was a question that presaged the fall of former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, who now faces trial for corruption.
The Oct. 25 article, written by Shanghai bureau chief David Barboza, said that many of Wen's relatives, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, had become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership.
After reviewing numerous corporate and regulatory records, the paper concluded that the prime minister’s relatives, including his wife, controlled assets worth at least U.S.$2.7 billion.
Many of them "have a knack for aggressive deal-making," it said, adding that their names had been hidden behind "layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners."
The article came after a lengthy investigation untangled shares in banks, jewelers, tourist resorts, telecommunications companies and infrastructure projects, all of which were held by Wen's family, sometimes by using offshore entities.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.