A consequential month and mysteries

Michael Raffety

4-18-2016

I began this column with the idea of writing about the disappearing Chinese executives. But from there my thoughts wandered into what a consequential month April is.

There are a lot of disappearing executives, mostly from Hong Kong, the former British colony that is a specially administered Chinese region with separate financial and legal systems. The key here is that Hong Kong-based corporations have to meet similar standards of transparency and accounting as British and American companies. This is in contrast to the opaqueness and financially obtuseness of mainland Chinese companies. Getting Chinese companies who want to list on the U.S. stock exchanges to meet financial reporting and standards is nearly impossible. Even when a U.S. accounting firm audits a corporation in China the government considers it a state secret.

A Nov. 30 listing in the San Francisco Chronicle totaled five major corporate CEOs who disappeared.

The Chronicle quoted Jamie Allen of the Asian Corporate Governance Association: “It also says a lot about the legal and political system of China. China doesn’t have a system of law like Hong Kong, In China you can disappear.”

One of the “disappeared” execs returned after several months and said he had been “assisting the relevant department” of Chinese government with an investigation.

Another, actually was rescued by police from a gang of extortionists in Taiwan.

Worse than disappearing from within China or Hong Kong is being abducted in a foreign country. A Hong Kong book publisher who was vacationing in January at a residence he owns on the beach in Thailand was abducted and wound up on Chinese TV confessing to a hit-and-run accident from 2003. He was about to publish a biography of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Also abducted were five booksellers he worked with. One of the booksellers has a British passport. The book publisher is a Swedish citizen.

Also abducted from Thailand is a rights activist and former columnist who escaped China and was about to board a train to Laos when he disappeared.

Thailand was taken over by a military junta in 2014 that is closely allied with China.

These Southeast Asia mysteries led me to remember Adam Harju, who worked for me at the Mountain Democrat for 4 ½ years. He started as a photographer and eventually became city editor. He was a great photographer, but developed a daytime problem with alcohol. I confronted him about it and he seemed to clean himself up. He really improved when he married a gal with a young boy. He stayed sober, which is why he was promoted to assistant city editor and then city editor. He was very good at all those positions.

At age 36 Adam then was hired as editor of the Garden Island News on the island of Kauai in December 2005. He was excited about bringing his family to Hawaii. He remained at that job three years. Following a divorce he took a job with the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh.

On April 30, 2010, he died under mysterious circumstances, falling out of a fifth floor window of his home a few blocks from the Mekong River. There was no final report made public, only speculation he was dead before his head hit the sidewalk. It could have been a suicide, but there was no note. He had written some stories critical of the government. Or he could have been hitting the sauce. We were all in shock when we read the news and saw the photo. Something seemed vaguely conspiratorial about it all. Whatever was going on with Adam, diving head-first onto the sidewalk is hard to explain without considering homicide. He was 40. Adam Harju was born June 23, 1969.

The Vietnam War ended April 30, 1975.

Other issues with April are the deadline to pay property taxes that was April 11 and incomes taxes April 15.

April 15 is when I joined the Navy, receiving an honorable discharge four years later on April 14, 1969. I wasn’t thinking about taxes back then. I didn’t go to Vietnam. Realistically, the Navy was a great adventure, but I was ready for a different career than aviation electronics.

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