China Bars Suntech’s Shi From Leaving Country, Reports Say

Shi Zhengrong, founder of Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. and an Australian citizen, has been barred from leaving China along with the company’s chief executive officer, David King, while authorities investigate the state of the company’s finances.

Immigration officials have been instructed to temporarily prevent Shi, who was once China’s richest man, from venturing outside China following Suntech’s bankruptcy, the Shanghai Securities News said March 22, citing people it didn’t identify.

E-mail and phone requests for comment to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade weren’t immediately answered. The Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions. Suntech officials declined to comment.

Suntech, which last week said it wouldn’t resist a bankruptcy petition filed in China, owes 221 million yuan ($36 million) in payables to Jiangsu Akcome Solar Science & Technology Co., Changzhou Almaden Stock Co. and Xi’An Longi Silicon Materials Co., the report said.

The company, based in Wuxi, outside Shanghai, had more than $2 billion in credit lines and defaulted on $541 million in bonds due on March 15, prompting eight Chinese banks to ask a local court to push Suntech’s main unit into insolvency. The court accepted the petition on March 21.

Shi’s stake of about 30 percent in Suntech was valued at $1.7 billion when he emerged at the top of the Wall Street Journal’s rich list for China in 2006.