Offshore shells helped tangle Chinese giant in Italian fraud scandal

Court records and secret offshore files shine light on Chinese green energy firm’s links to Italian criminal probe and figures with possible ties to Sicilian Mafia

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As 2008 began, the future looked brilliant for green energy giant Suntech Power and its high-rising founder, Shi Zhengrong.

Suntech was one of the world’s largest makers of solar panels, the first non-state-owned Chinese company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Shi, born to a farm family so poor it had to put him up for adoption, was a self-made billionaire hailed as one of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment.”

Then Italy changed everything.

By 2012, Suntech’s push to dominate southern Italy’s solar industry landed it in the middle of a sprawling fraud scandal. Lawsuits and bankruptcy filings followed, the New York Stock Exchange kicked the company off its Big Board, and Shi stepped down as chief executive of the empire he’d built from nothing.

The story of Suntech’s fall links China to Italy, Germany, London and Wall Street, passing through some of the world’s leading tax havens and ending up — Dolce Vita fashion — in some of the most luxurious spots in Rome.

It’s a tale about the nexus of offshore financial secrecy and Italy’s onshore culture of corruption, featuring a cast of characters that includes figures linked to a businessman who has served, authorities allege, as a front for Mafia clans. 

Read the rest from Investigative Reporting Project Italy and ICIJ on ICIJ.org.

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