With its gold and marble decor and infinity pool featuring unrestricted views of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong’s Four Seasons hotel is the height of luxury for lucky holidaymakers. But for a small handful of wealthy mainlanders it also serves as a comfortable and closeted hideout from prying authorities across the border.
Billionaire Xiao Jianhua, who is understood to have left the hotel with mainland government agents on Friday, is one such tycoon believed to have been holed up at the hotel in the heart of the city’s financial district, a place nicknamed the “north-facing watchtower” by mainland businessmen and media.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign over the last four years drove swarms of rich mainlanders to seek shelter in Hong Kong, and the Four Seasons Hotel was usually their first choice as a stop. Conversations at Lung King Heen, the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, often started with “how’s your case going”.
A number of mainland businessmen have made the Four Seasons their long-term hideout, earning the hotel, which faces north across the harbour towards the mainland, the reputation of being a den for fugitives sitting there facing Beijing, waiting until it is safe to return.
Xiao, with his entourage of female bodyguards, was one of the hotel’s most moneyed long-term guests.
The episode has prompted fears he may have been abducted and taken across the border, an act that would violate Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which states mainland law enforcement officials are not permitted to operate in the city.
On Wednesday, there was no sign that anything untoward had taken place at the hotel, where the 46-year-old businessman, who earlier claimed to be a Canadian citizen, was last seen and where he had lived for the past few years in self-imposed exile.
A hotel pianist played soft jazz to diners at the ground floor restaurant, while a handful of guests sat poolside on the sixth-floor terrace, where a flat white coffee costs HK$88.
In the lobby, which features an enormous window stretching to the sixth floor, a smattering of visitors sat playing with their phones.
Media outlets have previously reported on how mainlanders fleeing anti-corruption campaigns have sought refuge at the hotel, where a night in the presidential suite starts at HK$78,000.
Xu Zhendong, the head of technology firm Beida Jade Bird, checked into the hotel in 2014 when another businessman he was allegedly connected to was placed under investigation on the mainland.
Xing Libin, founder of Shanxi coal mining firm Liansheng Energy, also spent time there after he heard Beijing authorities were investigating his company. He later returned to Shanxi where he was arrested.
LeEco founder Jia Yueting, Jiangxi tycoon Xiong Xianzhong of Ke Long supermarkets, businessman Su Daren, and Wu Changjiang, chief executive of NVC Lighting, have all also spent time in the hotel sheltering from mainland authorities.
One reason tycoons might opt for the hotel, described on its website as a “refuge of timeless luxury”, is its location – only a short walk from the Macau ferry terminal and next door to the airport express train.
Amy Powell, director of public relations and communications for the Four Seasons, said she could not confirm whether Xiao had stayed at the hotel or which room he had stayed in, but said they were co-operating with police. She said the safety and security of guests was their main priority.
When asked if a large number of mainland businessmen stayed at the Four Seasons, Powell said the hotel welcomed guests from all over the world.