Bloomberg News has been accused of quashing a story that alleges financial ties between China’s richest man and relatives of top Chinese Communist party officials because of fears that the government would prevent it from operating in China.
An investigative team at the agency spent the past year probing links between the businessman and several current and former members of the Politburo Standing Committee – the body that ultimately rules China.
One person familiar with the circumstances said senior Bloomberg editors blocked the story at the eleventh hour. The person said Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief, told the reporters in a conference call on October 29 that Bloomberg could not risk jeopardising its position in China by running the story.
Bloomberg denied that the group, whose main business around the world is selling financial data, had spiked the story.
“The reporting as presented to me was not ready for publication,” Mr Winkler told the Financial Times, adding that Laurie Hays, a senior editor, and other top editors agreed with that assessment.
The person familiar with the discussions dismissed Bloomberg’s comments that the story was not ready for publication, saying it had been approved and just needed a Chinese government response. “We had crossed the Rubicon,” the person said. “The story was fully edited, fact checked and vetted by the lawyers.”
Mr Winkler declined to comment on whether he said on the conference call that the Chinese government would kick Bloomberg out of China if it printed the story.
“It’s not appropriate for me to comment on a private, internal conversation,” Mr Winkler said.
Several people familiar with the story said it focused on Wang Jianlin, the founder of Dalian Wanda, a real estate group, who recently paid $28.2m for Picasso’s “Claude et Paloma”. Forbes ranks Mr Wang as China’s richest man with $14.1bn.
A spokesperson for Wanda declined to comment. The FT itself has seen no evidence to indicate links between Mr Wang and party officials.
Mr Wang got his start in Dalian, the northeastern city where Bo Xilai, the jailed former high-flying Chinese politician, served as mayor for a number of years. The other major Dalian property developer, Xu Ming, was detained in connection with the Bo scandal and was not seen until he appeared in court in August during the Bo trial.