Chinese insurer reportedly detained amid financial probe

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Beijing | Published: June 14, 2017 1:12:51 PM

Anbang Insurance Group Ltd. Chairman Wu Xiaohui was "temporarily unable to perform his duties due to personal reasons," said a one-sentence statement on the company website.

Anbang Insurance Group Ltd. Chairman Wu Xiaohui. (Source: Reuters)

The Chinese insurer that owns New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel said today its chairman was unable to perform his duties following a report he was detained by regulators amid accusations of possible financial misconduct. Anbang Insurance Group Ltd. Chairman Wu Xiaohui was “temporarily unable to perform his duties due to personal reasons,” said a one-sentence statement on the company website. It said Wu authorised other executives to do his work and gave no other details. On Monday, the magazine Caijing reported that Wu, who founded Anbang in 2004 and built it into one of China’s biggest insurers, was detained last week by insurance regulators. Citing unidentified sources, it said authorities told the company about the detention but gave no reason. Spokespeople for Anbang did not respond to phone calls or emails. The China Insurance Regulatory Commission did not respond to questions sent by fax.

Anbang has been under scrutiny since a multibillion- dollar global string of asset purchases, including buying the Waldorf for USD 2 billion, raised questions about how it was paying for its buying spree. The privately held company said the money was raised from shareholders. It denied accusations by another magazine, Caixin, in April that Anbang improperly used payments from policyholders to increase its capital base. More recently, the company has suffered a series of setback including failing to complete several foreign takeovers, including the proposed purchase of US-based Fidelity & Guaranty Life for USD 1.6 billion. In May, Anbang was ordered to stop selling two financial products that regulators said violated industry rules.

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Other Chinese insurers also have been investigated following complaints of reckless speculation in stocks and real estate. The chairman of the Chinese insurance regulator is under investigation by the national anti-corruption agency. Regulators have declared reduction of financial risks in the Chinese economy a priority this year. Rising Chinese debt levels have prompted concern about the stability of the country’s financial system. Anbang has a reputation for unusually aggressive expansion in a Chinese insurance industry dominated by state- owned companies. Earlier, the company discussed possibly investing in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser. Those talks ended in March without a deal.
Wu rarely talks to reporters or appears in public, but Caijing said he attended a series of public events in recent weeks.

That included a May 12 meeting called by the insurance regulator to study a speech by President Xi Jinping about financial regulation. Anbang said it raised 50 billion yuan (USD 8 billion) from investors in 2014 to pay for its buying spree. That increased its registered capital fivefold to 62 billion yuan (USD 9.5 billion), the biggest among Chinese insurers. Caixin’s April report said at least 30 billion yuan (USD 4.3 billion) of that money really was payments from policyholders. The magazine said it was channeled back into the company through a complex ownership structure.

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