For years, Linda He helped wealthy Chinese move their money overseas and secure investment visas and citizenship. Her company, Wailian Group, with headquarters in Shanghai and offices in Vancouver, boasted of being able to deliver results within days, without the client even needing to leave China.
Ms. He was feted as a business leader and philanthropist in both China and the United States, with apparent connections to influential people such as Henry Kissinger. At the height of the saga over Beijing’s detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, Wailian hired John McCallum, Ottawa’s former ambassador to Beijing, to promote Canada as a destination for Chinese émigrés.
Last week, reports began to spread that Ms. He had been arrested in Shanghai and her company raided, as Beijing moves to limit capital outflow amid a broader economic downturn. The news sent a ripple of alarm through Chinese expat communities, with some warning those with undeclared foreign residences or citizenship not to travel home.
According to an Aug. 10 report in the Liberation Daily, the official paper of the Shanghai Communist Party, a woman surnamed He was among five people recently detained in connection with illegal foreign currency transactions worth 100-million yuan (the equivalent of $18.5-million). The woman ran an immigration services company, the report said.
Since then, multiple reports, including in state-run outlets, have identified the woman as Linda He, as did Cai Xia, a former senior Communist Party official turned dissident based in Washington, who initially raised the alarm about her arrest.
Representatives for Wailian and Ms. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Reached by phone, an employee at Wailian’s headquarters in Shanghai would not comment on Ms. He’s situation, but said the company was still operating normally.
Mention of Ms. He appears to have been removed from the company’s Chinese-language website since The Globe and Mail first made inquires, though it remains in English.
While Ms. He is a long-term resident of Vancouver, it is unclear if she holds Canadian citizenship or has been travelling on a Canadian passport to China.
Jean-Pierre Godbout, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said Wednesday that the agency “has not been notified of an arrest of a Canadian citizen in Shanghai in the context of this specific case,” nor has Ottawa received “any requests for consular assistance in relation to this case.”
David Lesperance, a Canadian immigration consultant whose company works with wealthy Chinese émigrés, said Wailian was a “major player in this sphere.” He was not surprised to hear of Ms. He’s apparent arrest, given the abundance of data authorities could potentially gather on people seeking to move their assets overseas.
“The Chinese government is trying to get financial information, find out who has second residences, second citizenships, and then use that for leverage,” Mr. Lesperance said. “This could be an earthquake. The ramifications could be huge.”
China strictly limits the flow of money abroad, with ordinary citizens only allowed to exchange up to US$50,000 per year into foreign currencies. Companies are also limited in how they can transfer funds, which has resulted in even some foreign investors complaining of profits being stuck in China.
In the Liberation Daily report, Shanghai police were quoted as saying “illegal trading of foreign exchange seriously disrupts the order of the national financial market,” and promising to “severely crack down” on such behaviour.
According to Chinese government statistics, in the first half of 2023, there was a net outflow of US$141-billion from the country’s economy. That is comparable to the around US$101-billion pulled out in the same period last year, with one big difference. The amount categorized as “errors and omissions” – seen by analysts as shorthand for illegal or semi-legal means of moving money out of China – fell from US$45.2-billion to US$5.2-billion year-on-year.
This could mean a tightening up of regulations is having an effect, after officials were alarmed by the massive outflows seen during the height of the pandemic, when many wealthy Chinese fled the country’s strict COVID-19 rules for Singapore and other havens, setting up family offices to gradually move their money out of China.
Most of the visas and residency options offered by Wailian involve substantial overseas investments. In one year alone, according to a Wailian press release, the company’s clients invested US$250-million in a New York fund that secures capital for real estate and infrastructure projects.
One scheme currently being promoted on the company’s website is British Columbia’s Provincial Nominee Program Entrepreneur Immigration, which requires individuals to demonstrate a personal net worth of at least $600,000 and make a $200,000 investment in a provincial business. Wailian describes this as the “fastest way” to secure residency in Vancouver, promising a turnaround time of three months.
According to filings from March in a U.S. employment lawsuit against the company – news of which was first reported by BIV – Ms. He lives in Vancouver, where two of the company’s overseas units are also based.
The Globe visited an address listed for Wailian in a luxury condo building near Vancouver’s Stanley Park, but there was no evidence of the company’s operations and a neighbour had not heard of Wailian or Ms. He.
Representatives for Wailian in Canada did not respond to a request for comment.
With a report from Nathan VanderKlippe in Vancouver