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VALLETTA/SHANGHAI - A widening investigation into allegations of high-level corruption on the island of Malta, first levelled by murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, stretches to China and a $400 million investment into Europe by a Chinese state power company, Reuters has found.
Caruana Galizia was murdered in October 2017 as she investigated a web of companies that she believed were funneling bribes to Maltese politicians.
Now, Reuters and a consortium of journalists have traced two firms involved in that web to relatives of a senior Chinese executive for Accenture, the global consultancy firm. The executive, 43-year-old Chen Cheng from Shanghai, negotiated investments on behalf of China's state-owned Shanghai Electric Power in Malta and in another small European state, Montenegro, over the past decade, according to Maltese officials and official records.
The revelation of a Chinese connection potentially adds a new international dimension to a scandal that has rocked Malta's government and last year led to the resignation of the prime minister. It also could figure in a series of Maltese official investigations into the events leading up to Caruana Galizia's death.
Backed by Malta's government, the investments by Shanghai Electric Power were portrayed by Maltese and Chinese political leaders as one component of China's multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road initiative to pour money into economic infrastructure in central Asia and Europe.
In 2016, a year before she was murdered in a car bombing, Caruana Galizia identified Chen's key role in the transactions on her blog.
A total of six people in Malta have been charged with Caruana Galizia's killing and await trial. There is no suggestion that Accenture, Chen or any Chinese company or individual is linked with that crime.
Caruana Galizia reported that Chen created a company in the British Virgin Islands in 2014, for an unknown purpose. In the same year, Chen played a central role in negotiations and due diligence for Shanghai Electric Power to invest 380 million euros ($400 million) in buying a share of Malta's state power company, Enemalta. Caruana Galizia did not specify any wrongdoing by Chen. Chen and Accenture did not respond to Caruana Galizia's report at the time.
Now, reporters at Reuters, the Times of Malta, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, have discovered that Chen's family set up two further companies in Hong Kong, both with business links to Malta.
Contacted for this article, Chen and Shanghai Electric Power didn't comment. Accenture said in a statement it is taking the matter very seriously and "carefully reviewing these allegations as they relate to one of our people. We adhere to the highest ethical standards in every market in which we operate and have zero tolerance for any deviation from those standards." Enemalta declined to answer questions about Chen.