A publicly traded Chinese company in charge of a kindergarten in China at the center of child sex abuse allegations has links to powerful Chinese officials and a board of directors that includes a former Clinton Foundation executive.
The Chinese educational firm RYB Education, Inc. went public on the New York Stock Exchange in September and is facing a wave of public criticism from parents and their supporters who say children at one of its kindergartens in Beijing were sexually molested, jabbed with needles, fed pills, and forced to stand naked by staff members.
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Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into the abuse allegations and censors have stepped up curbing information about the case and the company in state-controlled news outlets and social media.
Police in recent days arrested several people in China for "spreading rumors" including reports that RYB is tied to former Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, who until recently headed the Communist Party's powerful political and legal affairs commission.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) also issued a public denial that PLA officers were members of a predatory pedophile ring at the kindergarten.
RYB board member Meng Liang, according to two people knowledgeable of internal Chinese affairs, is the son of Meng Qingsheng, a close associate of Meng Jianzhu, the former senior security chief. Both Mengs worked in the agricultural sector in Shanghai decades ago.
Meng Liang is a Yale-educated financier who previously worked for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and investment bank J.P. Morgan. He could not be reached for comment.
The arrests for rumor mongering prompted state media in China to further fuel suspicions of a link between RYB and Meng Jianzhu by issuing the high-profile denial that Meng has no ties to the education company.
However, people familiar with Chinese affairs said Meng Jianzhu and his family are stakeholders in RYB.
The dissident Chinese publication Mingjing News reported that one of RYB's largest share holders is close to Meng Jianzhu. The Chinese language news outlet also said that Meng Jianzhu's elder sister is an adviser to RYB.
The South China Morning Post, quoting a report on the company website, reported that Meng Jianzhu spoke in November at a RYB event.
Meng Jianzhu also worked as a deputy at the Public Security Ministry to Zhou Yongkang, China's security czar and the highest ranking member of the collective dictatorship that rules China to be sentenced to life in prison for corruption.
Observers say allegations that Meng Jianzhu is linked to the education company could be part of the political purge of potential rivals to Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping.
RYB's chairman and co-founder, Chao Chimin is a graduate of the PLA Second Artillery Corps engineering school and owns a 23.6 percent stake in the company.
At least two other PLA retirees are said to hold senior leadership positions in RYB.
RYB, which stands for red, yellow, and blue, announced on Saturday that it had fired the director of one kindergarten and a 22-year-old female teacher named Liu, Reuters reported from Beijing.
The company's sole American board member is Joel A. Getz, a former fundraiser for the William J. Clinton Foundation and current official at Yale University.
Getz is listed on the RYB website as an independent director who has been on the board since September, and serves on the board's audit committee. The audit panel is in charge of overseeing the company's auditing, accounting, and legal compliance.
Getz is senior associate dean for development and alumni relations at the Yale School of Management. He previously worked as director of development for the Clinton Foundation in New York. He also was president of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Fund to Advance New York City.
Getz was unavailable for comment Monday, according to a person who answered the phone at his office.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked prosecutors to look into alleged ties between the Clinton Foundation and the sale of the Canadian company Uranium One to Russia's state-run Rosatom nuclear energy firm.
The Uranium One deal was approved in 2010 during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state and congressional Republicans have charged that Russian donations to the Clinton Foundation helped persuade the Clintons to back the deal.
President Trump said in a tweet Nov. 3 that everyone is asking why the Justice Department is not "looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems," including the Uranium One deal.
RYB made its initial public offering in September raising $102 million through 5.5 million shares at $18.50 apiece. Stock share prices for RYB dropped 38.4 percent on Friday following reports of the sex abuse.
RYB operates 80 kindergartens and has franchised 175 others in 130 cities and towns in China.
The negative publicity for the New York-listed company could affect other Chinese firms seeking to break into the New York exchange.
China-based editor Wang Feng tweeted last week that Chinese investors had called for punitive shorting of RYB stock.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said authorities are investigating whether children were "reportedly sexually molested, pierced by needles, and given unidentified pills."
China Digital Times, a California-based unofficial Chinese news outlet, reported that censors issued an instruction Nov. 24 that said, "Don’t report or comment on the matter of the Red Yellow Blue New World Kindergarten in Beijing’s Chaoyang district."
The school in question is located near a military base and the school director is married to a former military official, Digital Times reported.
Chinese reports quoted parents at the kindergarten in Beijing's Chaoyang district, in the southern part of the capital, as saying children as young as three told parents they were abused by a naked male adult who conducted medical check ups on unclothed students.
Another RYB school was involved in an abuse case in 2015 in Jilin province. Two teachers were found guilty by a court of abusing children at a kindergarten in the city of Siping.
The case stated that school staff on "multiple occasions used needles and intimidation tactics to abuse many of the children under their care," according to a court ruling document reported by Reuters.
In a statement Monday, RYB said: "The company is deeply saddened by the alleged maltreatment towards children by the RYB teacher, and extends its apologies to all of RYB's parents, children, and the public for the negative impact resulting from this incident."
"RYB remains fully committed to the safety and happiness of each and every child who is enrolled in RYB kindergartens and will continue to seek to implement best practices commensurate with its status as a leading early childhood education service provider in China."
According to the one parent who said in an interview posted online in China, a teacher told children that they were under surveillance and would know if they said anything about the abuse.
"How could a child not be scared?" said one women to reporters in China. "That’s why the kids didn’t dare tell their parents."
Other postings on social media sites WeChat, Sina.com, and Weibo voiced fury and outrage about the abuse allegations, despite censors that sought to limit and silence the statements.
"For two days my daughter has been crying: ‘I’m not sick, so why give me shots?'" said another disgruntled parent.
The New York Times reported that one social media account demanded: "Calling on everyone to save these children! Demand justice for these children!"
Reports on Chinese social media said children reported being fed pills that made them sleepy, and parents circulated photos showing small jab marks on their children.
Some of the children said they were forced to remove their clothes.
"We need clarification. As parents, we have the right to question the school, don't we?" a father who gave only his surname, Wang told Associated Press in Beijing.
A second man named Li stated: "If there is no explanation, I'm not sending my child here anymore. I will come over every day until they respond."