The New York Times website has been blocked in China by government censors after it published a story speculating on the massive family wealth of Premier Wen Jiabao.
In a 4,700-word story published Friday, the newspaper said family assets worth about $2.7 billion US had been amassed in a series of investments, mostly after Wen rose to senior positions starting in 2002.
The wealth is nominally in the hands of Wen's relatives, the paper said.
"A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion."
Chinese censors also blocked the Times's Chinese-language site that carried a translated version of the story. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a press briefing that the report "blackens China and has ulterior motives."
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said the paper hoped access to the sites could soon be restored.
In a move suggesting it had anticipated China's reaction, the Times made a Chinese-language version of the story available for download in PDF format, making distribution more likely, the Voice of America website reported.
The Times named Wen's 90-year-old mother, who left a life of poverty behind her, his children, and his former wife and other relatives as owners of some of the assets involved. Some of them, the story said, "have a knack for aggressive deal making."
And some of their businesses have received abnormal financial backing from state-owned companies, including phone company China Mobile.
Next month, the Chinese Communist Party is expected to name a new generation of leaders, the Times reported, but the selection process has already been hurt by scandal with the downfall of Bo Xilai, the Chongqing party boss, who was vying for a top position.
Wen Jiabao is expected to step down as prime minister in March at the end of his second term, the Times story said.
"Political analysts say that even after leaving office he could remain a strong backstage political force. But documents showing that his relatives amassed a fortune during his tenure could diminish his standing, the analysts said."