Back in 2002, to any number of global law firms, Zhou Zhengyi might have looked like a dream client. That year, the Shanghai property developer had just been ranked the 11th richest man in China by Forbes, and he was ready to put some money outside the mainland.

But the deal he hatched in Hong Kong that year — taking out a loan to acquire a publicly traded property development company, then paying back the loan with cash held by the acquired company — proved part of a long pattern of fraud and corruption. Zhou was arrested in Shanghai in 2003 and sentenced the following year to three years for illegally procuring property and loans. In November 2007 he was given another 16 years for bribery and tax fraud.