Investor sentenced to 13 years in prison by Chinese authorities, sparking new questions about shareholdings in West Indies Oil

Xiao Jianhua (pronounced Jhow Jin-Wah), the Chinese-Canadian billionaire who holds nearly 25% of the shares in the West Indies Oil Company Ltd. (WIOC), was sentenced to 13 years in prison in China, last Friday, August 19.

Jianhua, who went on trial on July 4, pleaded guilty to bribery and other crimes that the authorities said had “seriously jeopardized” that country’s financial security.

Jianhua’s company was fined US$8 billion, while, according to a Shanghai court, his Tomorrow Group umbrella of companies – once worth hundreds of billions of dollars – was also fined US$1 million.

The businessman was once a trusted financier to China’s ruling elite, and his trial reportedly was attended by top officials, including deputies to the National People’s Congress and members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Reports say that Jianhua is one of several Chinese tycoons caught in the crosshairs of a crackdown on corruption.

Allegations are that, between 2001 and 2021, he and the Tomorrow Group used shares, real-estate holdings, and other assets worth US$100 million to bribe government officials and evade financial supervision.

“Using Tomorrow Group, Xiao built up financial ties in companies that stretched into all areas of China’s economy, from banking and insurance to rare metals, coal and real estate,” one media report says.

As the Chinese-Canadian investor’s corporate empire grew, he became wealthy, amassing an estimated US$5.8 billion in net worth, according to media reports. Reportedly, “Tomorrow Group eventually became so big that it threatened the country’s financial stability,” a report states.

Back in June 2015, Harold Lovell, Political Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), had questioned whether due diligence had been done on the Chinese man before he purchased major shareholdings in WIOC.

Again, in 2017, Lovell warned that Antigua and Barbuda’s reputation was on the frontline because of its association with the investor. He said, then, that the potential for reputational damage was tremendous and the Browne Administration had been reckless in its pursuit of investment.

Jianhua had not been seen in public since 2017, after he was investigated amid a State-led conglomerate crackdown. Reports said he had been taken from his apartment at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong and transported to mainland China.

Since his disappearance, questions have been asked about his holdings in WIOC. In response, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has claimed the Chinese investor’s interest in the company is being managed here in Antigua, but he did not elaborate.

Jianhua is also reported to have some financial interest in three acres of land at Long Bay.