The relatives of Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday denied claims made in a New York Times article that they had amassed a “hidden” fortune — a rare response to a media report from a Chinese leader’s family.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Sunday that lawyers representing Mr. Wen’s family had issued a statement denying that the Premier’s relatives had, as the report said, amassed a fortune of $2.7 billion. The New York Times, which carried out a year-long investigation using company and regulatory filings, said Mr. Wen’s relatives had hidden their investments through layers of partnerships and investment vehicles.

Mother’s role

While the article said there was no evidence directly implicating Mr. Wen, one of its main claims was that his 90-year-old mother, Yang Zhiyun, had accumulated a fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including a $120-million holding in the Ping An insurance company.

Premier’s role

The article suggested Mr. Wen had a role in enriching his relatives, as he had overseen the regulatory body that allowed Ping An to go public — a move that brought a windfall to some of his relatives.

The lawyers denied this claim in their statement. “The mother of Wen Jiabao, except receiving salary/pension according to the regulation, has never had any income or property,” the statement said. “Wen Jiabao,” it added, “has never played any role in the business activities of his family members, still less has he allowed his family members’ business activities to have any influence on his formulation and execution of policies.”

The statement said the law firm “will continue to make clarifications regarding untrue reports by The New York Times, and reserve[s] the right to hold it legally responsible”.

It is rare for Chinese leaders to respond to foreign media reports.

Recent reports by Bloomberg news that detailed the fortunes of the relatives of Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as President during this year’s transition, were not rebutted.

The timing of this report was, however, seen as particularly damaging for Mr. Wen — coming days ahead of the November 8 Party Congress, following which he will retire.

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