It speaks volumes about China that the recently crowned richest person in the country has to launch a pre-emptive strike against those who may one day challenge the legality of how she built her fortune.
Zhang Yin, founder of packaging manufacturer Nine Dragons Paper, told reporters in Hong Kong that she “earned every single cent” of the US$3.4 billion that sealed her place at the summit of the Hurun China rich list. She would have come top in the Forbes rankings too had not the compilers decided to separate her Nine Dragons stake from those of her husband and brother.
“All the figures are transparent,” she added and, given the scandals that have enveloped past rich list high-fliers – as well as a few of the current crop – this was a poignant choice of language.
Gome chief Huang Guangyu, who comes in at number two in Hurun and number one in Forbes, is said to be under investigation for illegal loans.
The vultures have already fallen on real estate and highway tycoon Zhang Rongkun (16th place, class of 2005) for his involvement in the Shanghai pension fund scandal. Fellow real estate player Zhou lingered around the top 10 until he was detained and then jailed in 2003 for fraud.
It is hard not to see an element of irony in how Zhang Yin has made her fortune.
Other Chinese tycoons have hit the headlines for skimming funds off the top of huge piles of public money in the hope that their deceit won’t be spotted in the financial flotsam and jetsam of a perennially wasteful economy.
Zhang’s plan is almost the inverse of this: she has quite literally collected the waste generated by the US economy, repackaged it and sold it in China.