Politics

Anbang Insurance says chairman Wu Xiaohui stepping aside amid probe reports

The company did not directly respond to claims Wu had been taken away for investigation and Caijing’s report he had been detained was deleted hours after initial publication

Sidney Leng Xie Yu Choi Chi-yuk UPDATED :
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Anbang Insurance, one of China’s most aggressive overseas investors, said its chairman, Wu Xiaohui, can’t perform his duty “for personal reasons”, and has delegated his authority to other executives. The company made its brief statement hours after a leading Chinese magazine reported that Wu was taken away for investigation.

While Anbang’s statement didn’t respond directly to Tuesday evening’s media report, it confirmed weeks of speculation that Wu, a high-profile billionaire who married a granddaughter of former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, has been in trouble.

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The statement from Anbang added that the group’s business operations remain normal.

The Chinese language magazine Caijing reported on Tuesday that authorities had taken Wu away for investigation, citing unidentified sources, but the report was deleted hours later.

The headquarters building of Anbang Insurance Group in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Wu, one of the most high-profile mainland billionaires, has been involved in a war of words with the leading magazine Caixin and its editor-in-chief, Hu Shuli, in recent weeks over whether Wu and his company, Anbang, had been involved in ­irregularities.

Caijing reported on Tuesday that the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, Angbang’s regulator, had met with the company’s executives on Saturday and informed them that Wu had been taken away, although detailed reasons were not given.

The Caijing story was deleted hours after it was published.

A source familiar with the matter told the SCMP that Wu had been “assisting relevant investigations” for a while, but had always managed to return to his office or home after a few hours of questioning. But Wu hadn’t returned since he was taken away at the end of last week, the source added.

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The anti-corruption campaign under President Xi Jinping is sweeping the financial industry. Earlier this year, Xiao Jianhua, one of the nation’s most mysterious tycoons, was taken to the mainland to assist investigators in Beijing. Xiao has not been seen since. And Xiang Junbo, the chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, was sacked and put under investigation two months ago.

“If rumours of Wu Xiaohui’s arrest or detention prove to be true, it may not immediately impact the insurance sector as a whole, but it could raise questions about Anbang’s ability to remain a major player in outbound mergers and acquisitions,” said Brock Silvers, managing director of Kaiyuan Capital, a Shanghai-based financial advisory firm.

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Anbang has grabbed many headlines in recent years for its large cross-border acquisition deals, which included a US$1.95 billion investment in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that Wu had talked with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, about buying into a skyscraper project in Manhattan. But the deal failed, partly because Beijing tightened control over outbound investments.

Anbang’s plan to buy US insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life failed as well, because the company couldn’t answer detailed questions on its shareholding structure sought by financial regulators in the US.

Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk

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