Anbang Says Wu Can’t Perform Duties Amid Detention Reports

Updated on
  • Wu taken by Chinese authorities, Caijing magazine reports
  • Operations normal, other managers stepping in, Anbang says

Anbang Says Wu Xiaohui Unable to Perform Duties

Anbang Insurance Group Co., the Chinese company that was at the forefront of a global acquisition spree before abruptly reversing course, said Chairman Wu Xiaohui is unable to perform his duties for personal reasons amid local media reports that he has been taken away for questioning.

Other senior managers are authorized to carry out Wu’s responsibilities and operations are normal, the Beijing-based company said in a statement posted on its website. Caijing Magazine said late on Tuesday that Wu was taken away by Chinese authorities on June 9, citing unidentified people, before deleting the report from its website.

The news, amid a crackdown on financial risk-taking in China, adds to the intrigue surrounding one of the country’s most aggressive overseas dealmakers, which has faced questions over its ownership and financing. Since it embarked on a global takeover spree three years ago, Anbang has drawn attention for making preemptive offers and disrupting transactions already in place. Wu has personally negotiated deals without using traditional investment banks.

Sliding Shares

News of Anbang’s troubles touched off a slide in Chinese shares, led by insurers. Gemdale Corp., a developer about one-fifth owned by Anbang, fell as much as 4.1 percent in Shanghai. Ping An Insurance Group Co. slid as much as 3 percent. Anbang isn’t publicly traded.

This year, Anbang has been conspicuously subdued in its dealmaking as insurance regulators have escalated an industry crackdown by curtailing sales of risky products and restricting insurers’ acquisitions of listed companies. Anbang’s life insurance unit was banned in May from applying for new products for three months, after regulators said they found a product that circumvented rules and disrupted market order.

Caijing Magazine’s report said that officials from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission met with a small group of Anbang staff on June 10 and didn’t provide specific reasons for Wu being taken away. The report, which said it wasn’t clear whether Wu was assisting with a government investigation, was later deleted from the magazine’s website. Caijing didn’t immediately answer calls and emails requesting comment before regular business hours in Beijing.

A person familiar with the matter told the South China Morning Post that Wu had been “assisting relevant investigations” and previously had always returned to his office or home after a few hours of questioning. Wu hasn’t returned since he was taken away at the end of last week, the person told the newspaper.

Read more: China investigators said to question insurance officials

Anbang on June 2 denied a Financial Times report that said Wu was barred by Chinese authorities from leaving the country.

Wu is the latest tycoon to allegedly fall afoul of Chinese authorities. Prominent financier Xiao Jianhua was taken by agents from a Hong Kong hotel earlier this year and presumed to have been taken back to China, according to local media reports.

CIRC declined to comment to Caijing, and Bloomberg’s phone calls to CIRC spokesman Zhang Zhongning outside business hours weren’t answered. Anbang’s U.S. representatives said they had no immediate comment.

Anbang drew worldwide attention in 2014, as it snapped up real estate and financial-services companies in Asia, the U.S. and Europe, often at large premiums. In October that year it agreed to buy the landmark Waldorf Astoria in New York for $1.95 billion, a record for a single American hotel, and later closed the property while it converts most of the rooms to luxury condominiums.

Family Ties

Wu established ties with the family of reform leader Deng Xiaoping after marrying Deng’s granddaughter Zhuo Ran. The vast majority of Anbang is collectively owned by people connected Wu or Zhuo Ran, the New York Times has reported.

Read more: Anbang denies China preventing chairman from leaving country

Anbang had been in talks to invest in the proposed redevelopment of 666 Fifth Ave. in New York, the marquee holding of Kushner Cos., the family company of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Talks broke off in March.

Wu has done deals with Blackstone Group LP, whose chairman and chief executive officer, Stephen Schwarzman, has helped endow a scholarship at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. China’s sovereign wealth fund owns a minority stake in Blackstone.

In early 2016, Anbang agreed to buy Strategic Hotels & Resorts, owner of 16 high-end hotels in the U.S., from Blackstone for about $6.5 billion. One hotel next to a major naval base later dropped out of the purchase amid national security concerns.

About the same time as Anbang agreed to the Strategic purchase, it made a surprise $14 billion offer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, starting a bidding war with Marriott International Inc. A few weeks later, Anbang walked away from the bid with scant explanation, having forced Marriott to increase its offer by about $1 billion.

Last month, an investor group including funds affiliated with Blackstone agreed to acquire Fidelity & Guaranty Life. Anbang’s earlier agreement to buy the company was canceled in April after the Chinese company failed to meet transaction deadlines.

— With assistance by Dingmin Zhang, Keith Zhai, and Jeanny Yu

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