Canadian citizen Xiao disappeared from Hong Kong's Four Seasons hotel in January 2017
Canadian citizen Xiao disappeared from Hong Kong's Four Seasons hotel in January 2017

Canadian-Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua is standing trial on Monday, Ottawa's embassy in Beijing said in a statement, after the businessman disappeared from a Hong Kong hotel five years ago.

Xiao vanished from Hong Kong's Four Seasons hotel in January 2017, with local media reporting that he was snatched by mainland Chinese agents -- fuelling fear at the time over Beijing's tightening influence in the financial hub.

The tycoon, one of China's richest people at the time of his disappearance, reportedly had close connections to the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party.

Nothing more had been known about Xiao, who is a Canadian citizen, since his disappearance, until the embassy confirmed Monday that he was facing trial.

"Global Affairs Canada is aware that a trial in the case of Canadian citizen, Mr. Xiao Jianhua, will take place on July 4, 2022," the Canadian embassy told AFP, without specifying the location of the trial or charges against him.

"Canadian consular officials are monitoring this case closely, providing consular services to his family and continue to press for consular access."

Hong Kong police said at the time that he had crossed the border into mainland China.

His company Tomorrow Group also later said that he was in the mainland.

But Chinese authorities have been silent about the case, reportedly linked to an anti-corruption drive championed by President Xi Jinping since he came to power.

Xiao's alleged abduction came at a time when mainland Chinese agents were not permitted to operate in Hong Kong, and it sparked fear in the city about residents being forcibly disappeared.

These fears were at the heart of massive pro-democracy protests that shook Hong Kong in 2019, prompted by a government bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China's opaque, Communist Party-controlled judicial system.

Xiao's disappearance also followed the alleged kidnapping into mainland custody of five people working for a bookstore which published salacious titles about China's leaders.

The booksellers later appeared on mainland Chinese TV admitting to a variety of crimes.

In response to the protests, China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020.

That law allowed its security agencies to operate in the city and toppled the legal firewall between mainland and Hong Kong courts.

Xiao rose from a poor family to become one of China's richest men, founding the Beijing-based Tomorrow Group.

He was head of the official student union at the prestigious Peking University in 1989 when the Chinese government used troops and tanks to crush peaceful demonstrations.

Xiao had tried and failed to defuse the protests, with his company later denying a report in The New York Times that he had been rewarded by the government for his role.

After university, Xiao began selling computers and in the years that followed built an empire with diverse interests, including in banking and insurance.

According to the Hurun Report, which ranks China's wealthiest people, Xiao was worth almost $6 billion in 2017.

He had reportedly denied allegations that he fled to Hong Kong in 2014 to escape the corruption crackdown in China.

Xiao is said to have acted as a broker for the Chinese leadership, including for President Xi's family.

"After five years of quietly waiting, our family is still, based on my brother's strict instructions, putting faith in the Chinese government and Chinese law," Xiao's elder brother Xinhua told The Wall Street Journal last month.

"It's very complicated and full of drama," he said of the case, according to the WSJ.

The years after his disappearance have also been marked by plummeting relations between China and Canada, sparked by the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou -- the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei -- at the request of the United States.

Following Meng's arrest, Beijing detained two Canadians in China and targeted Canadian agricultural exports.

All three were released in September 2021 after Meng reached a deal with US prosecutors on the fraud charges, ending her extradition fight.

Since then there have been hopes of a thaw in diplomatic relations, with Beijing lifting a ban on Canadian canola imports earlier this year.

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