Secret Path for Moving Chinese Money Overseas

Government-sanctioned trial program is revealed; it helps explain huge Chinese investments in foreign real estate in the recent past.

For years, wealthy Chinese have been transferring billions of U.S. dollars' worth of their money overseas, snapping up pricey real estate in markets including New York, Sydney, and Vancouver despite their country’s currency restrictions.

Now, one way they could be doing it is clearer. Last week, when China Central Television leveled money-laundering allegations against Bank of China Ltd., the state-run broadcaster’s report prompted the revelation of a previously unannounced government program that enables individuals to transfer their yuan and convert it into dollars or other currencies overseas.

While Bank of China didn’t provide figures, the 21st Century Business Herald estimated the lender has moved about 20 billion yuan (US$3.2 billion) abroad through Youhuitong, citing people with knowledge of the trial program. “Many commercial banks” in Guangdong offer a similar service, Bank of China said in its statement, without naming them.

On CCTV’s website, the report on Bank of China hasn’t been viewable since at least July 12. Today, the story link led only to a series of advertisements. A spokeswoman for CCTV’s international relations department, which handles foreign media inquiries, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on why the story wasn’t available.

Customers deposit yuan with HSBC’s mainland unit or purchase its wealth-management products, and the bank’s overseas branch then issues a foreign-currency denominated mortgage using the China deposits as collateral, the person said.

“We seek to abide by the rules and laws of the jurisdictions and geographies in which we operate,” said Gareth Hewett, a Hong Kong-based HSBC spokesman.

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