Why Are So Many Chinese Billionaires Mysteriously Disappearing?

Internal politics and the murkiness of the Chinese economy are among the potential reasons.

June 19, 2017 9:29 am
Why Chinese Billionaires Are Mysteriously Going Missing
Wu Xiaohui, chairman and chief executive officer of Anbang Insurance Group Co., the latest Chinese billionaire to go missing in an apparent 'economic crimes' crackdown by the Chinese government. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Nearly two weeks ago, billionaire Wu Xiaohui, who built the Angbang Insurance Group empire, was detained by Chinese authorities for alleged economic crimes. He hasn’t been seen since.

Per the Wall Street Journal, Wu’s disappearance is just one in a string of similar detainments; Tomorrow Group’s Xiao Jianhua has been missing since January, and Fosun Group’s Guo Guangchang vanished in late 2015, but resurfaced after helping in an investigation. The Los Angeles Times listed a number of others in a recent report.

Wu, it turns out, is married to the granddaughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and was the money man behind a $2 billion purchase of New York’s Waldorf=Astoria hotel. (Last year, he also met and talked an investment deal with President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, but it ultimately led nowhere after ethics questions were raised.) Which raises the question: Are these business tycoons’ political connections what’s leading to their disappearances?

Little is known about how Wu’s business went from a small auto insurance company to one that was worth $300 billion, so whether it has connections to the Chinese government is unknown. Another issue that has plagued international dealmakers and regulators; it is unclear where many Chinese billionaires’ money actually comes from. That murkiness led Angbang to abruptly abandon a massive $14 billion bid to buy the Starwood hotel group in 2016.

This is all part of a broader investigation by the Chinese government into “funding for the firm’s acquisitions overseas, possible market manipulation by insurers, and the aforementioned (and undefined) “economic crimes,’” per Bloomberg.


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