Deep-pocketed and well-connected Chinese insurance giant Anbang has announced that Wu Xiaohui, the company’s dynamic chairman, has stepped aside, explaining that he is “unable to perform his duties,” citing unspecified personal reasons.
That brief statement was issued on Tuesday only hours after Caijing, China’s foremost financial magazine, reported that Wu had been detained by authorities for investigation. The article, which cited unnamed sources, was removed only shortly after being posted online.
This comes just a week after Anbang denied a report from the Financial Times that Wu had been barred from leaving China. It also follows the mysterious disappearance in January of Xiao Jianhua, a China-born billionaire who was escorted out of his luxury hotel in Hong Kong by Chinese authorities and led across the border. Xiao has not been heard from since.
Under Wu’s leadership, Anbang has been on a global spending spree, snapping up high-profile acquisitions around the globe, raising eyebrows and national security concerns along the way. The company’s biggest acquisition came in 2014 when it purchased New York’s historic Waldorf Astoria hotel for nearly $2 billion with plans to overhaul the iconic building and fill it with luxury condos.
However, since purchasing the Waldorf, Anbang has seen its efforts to buy up additional property in the US thwarted by regulators. Reportedly, the company was also close to investing $4 billion into Kushner Companies’ flagship Fifth Avenue skyscraper, but the deal was called off after being exposed by the press, drawing unwelcome attention to both sides.
After all, Anbang is also infamous for its opaque shareholding structure, with murky ties to the families of top Chinese leaders. The New York Times discovered last year that the $300 billion Chinese conglomerate was owned through 39 different companies, many of which turned out to be shell companies that were traced to Wu and his wife, the granddaughter of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, in addition to the son of a top military marshall.
Meanwhile, Anbang has also recently run into problems inside China with the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) banning one of the group’s units from issuing new products for three months in May, accusing Anbang of “evading” industry regulations and “wreaking havoc on market order,” according to the Financial Times, which also points out that the CIRC’s own chairman, Xiang Junbo, was detained in early April for alleged corruption.
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