The list of high-profile executives in China that have been investigated, face exit bans, or have just gone missing, keeps growing – DAVID RAUDALES

DAVID RAUDALES

Businessman, musician / former Full Stack Developer

DAVID RAUDALES UK

The list of high-profile executives in China that have been investigated, face exit bans, or have just gone missing, keeps growing

A slew of high-profile corporate execs have been targeted by Chinese authorities in recent years including HNA’s Chen Feng and Adam Tan, Anbang’s Wu Xiaohui, and Xi Jinping critic, Ren Zhiqiang.

Thomson Reuters/REUTERS/Amr Alfiky/Getty Images/Chairman of Anbang Insurance Group Wu Xiaohui attends the China Development Forum in Beijing

A slew of high-profile leaders have been targeted by China’s tightening regulations.
In recent months several executives have been barred from leaving the country through exit bans. 
In June, the US State Department issued an updated travel advisory to China in light of the bans. 

China has grown noticeably colder toward businesses — and their top leadersin recent years. 

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, authorities have cracked down on private sector companies, raided the offices of major firms, slowed the approval of deals, and targeted a slew of high-profile executives. Many of these leaders have been subject to investigation, barred from leaving the country, placed under surveillance, or have even gone missing

China’s tightening regulations have also triggered concerns overseas. In June, the US State Department issued an updated travel advisory to mainland China alerting potential travelers to the “arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions.” 

Here’s a closer look at the growing list of execs that have been targeted by Chinese authorities. 

Michael Chan, managing director for the US risk-advisory firm Kroll, has been blocked from leaving the country over the past two months by an exit ban.Michael Chan, managing director at Kroll, which has offices in Beijing, is facing an exit ban in China.

Construction Photography/Avalon / Contributor

Chan — who is based at Kroll’s Hong Kong division — first arrived in mainland China back in July, according to the Wall Street Journal. He’s currently assisting authorities in an investigation (where he is not the target) while continuing to work, the Journal said.

At Kroll, Chan focuses on insolvencies and corporate restructuring according to his biography on the firm’s website. It also notes that Chan has “extensive experience” investigating fraud, false financial statements, and defalcation (the misuse of funds by someone entrusted with them) and establishing recovery strategies for creditors. 

 

Charles Wang Zhonghe, a senior banker at Japanese firm Nomura, was recently barred from leaving China.Charles Wang Zhonghe a senior banker at Nomura is facing an exit ban as he cooperates with an investigation.

Toru Hanai/REUTERS

Within the country, however, Wang has leeway to move freely, the Financial Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The Wall Street Journal also noted that he can still be contacted.  

The exit ban placed on Wang is tied to a larger investigation that has implicated Bao Fan and Cong Lin, top bankers at Chinese investment bank China Renaissance, according to the FT. 

Wang — who started off his career on Wall Street in the ’90s — has been based in Hong Kong for the past several years, according to his LinkedIn profile

Since 2018, he’s been chair of investment banking for China at Nomura’s Hong Kong branch, according to LinkedIn. Prior to that he was Deputy CEO of ICBC for five years, and spent almost six years before that at Deutsche Bank as managing director and heading global banking for China, based on LinkedIn. 

 

Hui Ka Yan, chairman of Evergrande, one of China’s largest real estate developers, is under police control.China Evergrande founder Hui Ka Yan is being monitored by authorities for suspected crimes.

VCG/Getty Images

Hui is under suspicion by authorities who believe he may have committed crimes, according to multiple outlets.  

He was taken by Chinese authorities earlier this month and is being monitored under “residential surveillance” which is a type of police action that falls shy of a formal arrest, according to Bloomberg. He’s reportedly at a location in Beijing, the Wall Street Journal said, citing a domestic Chinese outlet.

Hui grew up in a rural working class family in north central China, and worked at a steel factory for 10 years before founding Evergrande in 1996. The company eventually became China’s second largest real estate developer and helped Hui earn a spot on Bloomberg’s billionaire list.

Evergrande, however, also became the world’s most indebted property developer. By 2022, it had racked up almost $340 billion in liabilities and filed for bankruptcy this August.

Bao Fan, the CEO and cofounder of Chinese investment bank China Renaissance, disappeared in February.Bao, one of China’s top dealmakers, went missing in February and is cooperating with an investigation.

Courtesy of China Renaissance

When Bao disappeared on February 16, China Renaissance issued a disclosure stating that they were unable to contact him, which also sent their stock prices plunging. 

It was only several weeks later that the bank filed a statement with the Hong Kong stock exchange acknowledging that they had “become aware” that Bao was “currently cooperating in an investigation being carried out by certain authorities in the People’s Republic of China.

He’s likely involved in a corruption probe linked to Cong Lin, the former president of China Renaissance, who has been under investigation by authorities since last September, according to Chinese financial news outlet Caixin.

Bao, often referred to as one of China’s top tech dealmakers, worked at Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, and software company Asiainfo, before launching China Renaissance in 2004, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

He’s earned a name through working with major Chinese companies. He reportedly closed the merger of food delivery group, Meituan, with restaurant rating platform Dianping, by “locking both sides in a hotel room for a day” according to the Financial Times.

In a post he wrote for Insider back in 2017, Bao said that China was “the biggest competitor for Silicon Valley in the marketplace of ideas” and noted that Chinese authorities were “showing surprising tolerance for business model innovation.”

Chen Feng, chairman of Chinese conglomerate HNA and chief executive Adam Tan, were detained in 2021 over suspected crimes.HNA’s Chen and Adam were detained in 2021.

Thomson Reuters/REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

Even before their arrests, though, the two had largely disappeared from the public eye. Chen was barred from taking flights and traveling by high-speed rail while Tan’s name had last appeared on a company statement in 2018, the Financial Times reported.        

Little has been reported about the two in the years since.    

Their company, HNA, initially started as an airline and eventually became a travel-focused conglomerate that had snapped up more than $50 billion in acquisitions, many of which were made at a high premium. The company had stakes in Hilton, Dutch transport group TIP Trailer Services, and Irish aircraft leaser Avolon, according to the Financial Times. 

By the time the pandemic hit, though, the company was up against billions in debt and teetering on the brink of collapse. After being effectively taken over by the Hainan provincial government in 2020, the company was placed under bankruptcy administration in 2021. The company went through two years of corporate restructuring under official oversight, according to Bloomberg. 

Property tycoon, Ren Zhiqiang, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2020.Ren Zhiqiang went missing after he criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Getty Images

Ren first went missing in March 2020 after accusing the Communist Party of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic in an essay where he also referred to President Xi Jinping as a “clown.” 

Shortly thereafter, he was stripped of his Communist Party membership, detained, and put under investigation by China’s Discipline Inspection Commission, which looks into alleged corruption and violation of party discipline, according to the Financial Times. 

That September, he was sentenced to prison in a one-day trial, according to the FT, which also reported that the court said Ren was “found guilty of charges including bribery, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power.” His peers, however, contend that he was sentenced because of his critical essay

Ren, who was 69 at the time of his sentencing, had been involved in a number of “high-profile projects” across Beijing, according to the FT. He grew up as the “privileged princeling son” of an official in the Chinese communist party and his “red pedigree” via his connections with government officials enabled him to speak out more candidly than his peers, the FT said

 

Anbang Insurance Group’s founder and former chairman, Wu Xiaohui, was detained and subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison.Former chairman of Anbang Insurance Group was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Thomson Reuters

Wu was sentenced to prison in May 2018 on charges of fraud and embezzlement

Yet, he had already been placed under investigation by authorities the prior June after a string of multi-billion dollar acquisitions Anbang had made, according to the state-run China Star Daily. 

The massive financial firm had agreed to buy the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in 2014 for close to $2 billion. In 2016, it agreed to shell out $6.5 billion to buy a portfolio of hotels from Blackstone. The company was even on track to drop $14 billion on Starwood Hotels and was even in talks with Jared Kushner to strike a $4 billion deal with his family business, Kushner Industries — both of which never came to fruition. 

Wu, founded Anbang in 2004 and was once regarded as one of the most politically connected men in China due to his marriage to the granddaughter of former communist party leader Deng Xiaoping, the BBC reported.

Chinese-Canadian billionaire, Xiao Jianhua, was sent to jail on corruption charges in 2022.Xiao was living at the Hong Kong Four Seasons when he was taken by authorities in 2017.

Four Seasons Image Library

Xiao was sentenced to 13 years in prison and his corporate conglomerate, Tomorrow Group, was fined RMB 55.03 billion, or approximately $8 billion, after pleading guilty to bribery, illegally using funds, and other charges, according to a ruling from the Shanghai First Immediate People’s Court. Xiao, himself, was also fined RMB 6.5 million, or around $1 million, based on the court’s ruling.

Xiao’s appearance at the trial also marked his first public sighting since authorities took him from the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong in February 2017, according to Bloomberg. He had been living since fleeing China years earlier, Bloomberg reported.

Xiao, who was born in China, passed the examination for the highly selective Peking University at the age of 14, according to The New York Times. He graduated with a degree in law, and sold personal computers, before founding Tomorrow Group in 1999, according to Caixin. The conglomerate eventually grew to have stakes in businesses across banking, securities, insurance, coal and real estate, Caixin reported. 

By 2017, Xiao amassed a fortune of close to $6 billion according to the Hurun Report, which tracks China’s billionaires, though a person close to Xiao told The Times the report vastly understated his wealth. 

He became a Canadian citizen around 2008 and also has a diplomatic passport to Antigua and Barbuda, according to Global News. 

Whitney Duan, once one of China’s richest women, disappeared in 2017.Desmond Shum, former husband of Whitney Duan, who went missing in 2017.

PBS

In the years before Duan suddenly disappeared, she and her former husband, Desmond Shum, were among China’s elite class.  The couple was involved in several large developments in Beijing including the Beijing Airport Cargo Terminal and the Bulgari Hotel, according to Time. 

In 2015, a couple of years after their marriage broke down, Shum himself left China out of concern for the “authoritarian turn” the country was taking under Xi Jinping, Time reported

Duan disappeared in 2017 and it took him four years to get in contact with her again. 

After he spoke to her again, Shum told Time that “she said she had no news of the outside world over the last four years. She said, ‘They have been lenient to me, they didn’t treat me that badly.”

He also said that Duan pleaded with him not to publish his recent book “Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China,” which details corruption in the Chinese Communist Party.

Shum told Time, “she asked me to stop the book launch, saying, ‘How would you feel if something happened to our son? And what would happen to our son if something happened to me?’ I took that to be a threat.” 

 

Jack Ma, e-commerce mogul, disappeared in 2020 after criticizing the Chinese financial industry.Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma, once one of the wealthiest men in Asia, has kept a low profile since 2020.

Future Publishing/Getty Images

The high-profile Chinese entrepreneur behind e-commerce giants like Alibaba and Ant Group is regarded as something of a celebrity in China and was once the richest man in Asia. At his peak in 2020 he had a fortune of close to $61 billion.  

That October, though, as Ant Group was gearing up for an IPO, Ma criticized the Chinese financial industry in a speech he gave in Shanghai. The speech prompted authorities to impose new regulations halting the IPO and Ma suddenly disappeared from public view

He’s kept a pretty low profile since, resurfacing over the years in locations like Spain, Thailand, and reportedly spent several months in 2022 living in Japan. In May, Ma made a rare public appearance in China, visiting a school founded by Alibaba partners in the city of Hangzhou, according to Aljazeera. 

His wealth has taken a hit, too, over the years, as his companies struggled during the pandemic. He’s now worth close to $30 billion, according to Bloomberg.

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