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Concerns with infamous ABSEZ as new player with controversial history arrives in Antigua

Within the past couple of months, a private jet from London arrived in Antigua, bringing an individual whose past has kindled a mixture of speculation and concern. The group includes Peter Zhang also known as Zhang Yu, a figure previously lauded for Sino-British relations, Hongtao Duan, a Chinese-born citizen of Antigua; crypto-pioneer Romanian, Marius Daniel Mihai; and Jie Xu Kidd Edwards alongside Huibin Feng, both UK citizens.

The zone, previously operated by Chinese investor Yida Zhang has been sold to this new group by the name of Special Economic Zone Holdings (SEZH) which Island Press Box believes is operated by these individuals.

Duan, who does business in blockchain technology innovation, has bought majority of the lands within the former Antigua and Barbuda Special Economic Zone (ABSEZ) from Yida Zhang, becoming its new owner and reported president. Meanwhile, Peter Zhang is believed to be the new vice president of the company now operating the zone under the name SEZH.

Records sourced from the Antigua and Barbuda Intellectual Property Officer (ABIPCO) showed that the SEHZ was registered as a Public Ordinary Company on 17, January 2024 and lists a managing clerk residing at Freeman’s village as the Director. No other information could be sourced about the company because according to the office, they could not find the physical documents of incorporation, despite it being incorporated the month before.

Zhang, described by The Times UK as “the poster boy for David Cameron’s ‘golden era’ of Sino-British relations,’’ is known for pledging state-backed funds for monumental projects, to which The UK times further explained that “few lasted longer than the photo opportunity,” casting doubt on the substance behind his high-profile commitments.

This fleeting nature of Zhang’s commitments echoed through his involvement in various large-scale projects that failed to come to fruition. The BBC News shed light on the Scottish government’s memorandum of understanding with two Chinese companies, revealing that “The MoU had committed the Scottish government and the two Chinese companies to exploring opportunities for investment.”

Zhang is a shareholder in Sino Fortune and an affiliate of CR3. However, the legitimacy of these companies was quickly questioned as “it also emerged that Amnesty International had raised concerns over the human rights record of CR3, with the company being blacklisted by Norway’s oil fund.”

The controversy surrounding these companies deepens as The Herald Scotland reports on the gravity of the situation: “China Railway Group Limited (CRG), the parent company of CR3, was blacklisted by Norway’s oil fund after its ethics council concluded that there is an ‘unacceptable risk that the company is involved in gross corruption’ and an ‘unacceptable future risk of corruption’.”

The report also highlights a significant oversight by Scottish leadership, with Nicola Sturgeon admitting she was “not aware” that the Chinese company was linked to corruption before she engaged in discussions for the multi-billion-dollar partnership.

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As Antigua hosts this individual and his friends, his past controversies loom over their visit. The hope is that Antigua’s authorities and its people will remain vigilant, ensuring that any business conducted on their shores reflects the nation’s values and commitment to ethical practices. The local and international communities will certainly be watching with keen interest as events unfold.

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