China’s premier turns to lawyers from Jun He and Grandall amid New York Times row

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s family has instructed two veteran Chinese lawyers for advice following a New York Times report into its alleged wealth.

Wen Jiabao
Wen Jiabao

Jun He partner Bai Tao and Grandall executive partner Wang Weidong have issued a statement confirming that they are representing the family of Premier Wen and denying allegations made by the New York Times on Friday that the family has accumulated at least $2.7bn in “hidden riches”.

Both lawyers, who are based in Beijing, confirmed their engagement in the high-profile case, but refused to comment beyond what has been said in the statement.

In the statement, first published on Saturday in the South China Morning Post, the two lawyers jointly stated: “The so-called ‘hidden riches’ of Wen Jiabao’s family members in the New York Times’ report does not exist.”

According to the statement, some of Wen’s family were engaged in business activities, but they did not carry out any illegal activity and they do not hold shares in any companies. It added that Wen’s mother receives a salary and pension according to regulations, but has never had any other income or property.

The statement said that the lawyers are considering whether to take legal action against the New York Times.

Both Bai and Wang are senior-level partners at their respective firms. Bai obtained her juris doctor degree from Cornell Law School in the US in 1988 and became a founding partner of Commerce & Finance law firm in 1992 before joining Jun He as a partner in 2002. During her time in the US, she worked briefly in the legal department of GM. Her practice focuses primarily on foreign investment and intellectual property. She is also active in providing pro-bono services to non-profit organisations and is currently serving as vice-president of the Beijing Lawyers Association.

Wang, the executive and managing partner of Grandall’s Beijing office, also trained in the US, gaining an LLM from the University of Minnesota. He is a veteran lawyer in corporate and M&A with experience in the infrastructure, and power and energy sectors. In recent years, he has represented a number of state-owned and privately owned Chinese companies in outbound investments.

There have been few occasions in China when senior political leaders have instructed lawyers to provide legal representation on reputational issues. However, several international lawyers working in China have queried why the lawyers engaged are not defamation lawyers and why Chinese rather than New York lawyers have been instructed.

“It seems hardly the right choice if it’s purely on the basis of expertise,” said one lawyer working in Beijing.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone from the reputable firms being asked to act as a mouthpiece for Chinese leaders in this way. Yet I expect it’s not the last time,” said a foreign lawyer based in Beijing.