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Police suspect tax fraud by China-linked Tampere media firm

China Radio International pulled its 60-percent stake in GBTimes.

The GBTimes media firm in Tampere broadcast news about China. Image: YLE / Tommi Parkkinen
Yle News

Police suspect the Tampere-based media company GBTimes of numerous counts of aggravated fraud.

The media firm's sister company runs the Radio Classic station, and GBTimes itself publishes China-related articles on its website. The firm was partly funded by the Chinese government in 2012-2017.

Daily Helsingin Sanomat published a story (siirryt toiseen palveluun) in August where CEO Zhao Yinong said the company's purpose was to give Westerners a more varied picture of China, claiming that Western media 'demonises' China with its reporting. News agency STT was unable to contact him or his wife for an interview.

The now-defunct Finnish GBTimes website (siirryt toiseen palveluun) features a message from Zhao in February of this year, explaining the site's closure. "The difficult decision to close this service was part of adjustments that helps [sic] us refocus our business operations," the release reads.

Public court records show that Zhao, 58, is suspected of committing aggravated fraud between 2012 and 2016. Police suspect a 56-year-old Finnish man, a representative or advocate for GBTimes, of abetting in aggravated fraud from 2012 to 2015. He has denied the accusations. Police say they have seized more than 700,000 euros from the men's personal property and company assets.

Head of investigation Kirsi Silomäki had no comment on the case.

Chinese broadcaster withdrew funding

GBTimes reported a turnover of more than 9.4 million euros for 2018, and profits of less than 274,000. One year earlier the turnover was more than 11 million euros, with gains of some 765,000 euros.

In 2015 news agency Reuters reported that a sister company of the government-owned China Radio International (CRI) owned 60 percent of GBTimes. At the time CEO Zhao said CRI paid several million euros a year to his company for producing radio programming for a Finnish audience.

Reuters said that GBTimes has also operated in Italy and Hungary.

The company's financial statements show that a tax audit was begun in 2017, concerning operations for 2013 to 2018. They also show that CRI terminated its contract in December, 2018, leading to layoffs in January.

Zhao told HS in the summer he did not know why the Chinese government pulled the funding. The interview included no mention of criminal charges, even though police authorised the seizure of assets in late June.

Reuters: Pro-China coverage scheme

Reuters reported in 2015 that GBTimes was part of a network of pro-China news agencies, which are run from Melbourne and Los Angeles as well as Tampere.

Reuters said the business model is always the same: a Chinese entrepreneur cooperating with the Chinese government establishes a local media outlet, of which a CRI subsidiary owns 60 percent.

Leading US expert on China, David Shambaugh told the Financial Times in 2017 (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that China spends around 10-12 billion dollars annually on "soft power" or shaping public opinion abroad.

Zhao told HS that neither GBTimes nor the network were established on a government mandate. Instead, he said the network was his own idea.

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