China’s HNA Group Co. shot to prominence by spending more than $40 billion on acquisitions across six continents from 2016. But the breathtaking spree drew questions from regulators about the group’s opaque ownership structure and its struggle to manage spiraling debt. The scrutiny prompted a reversal of course and an equally dramatic selling spree. Now the shock of the coronavirus outbreak has led Chinese authorities to effectively take control of HNA’s day-to-day management, paving the way for a breakup.
Founded in 1993 as a regional airline operator, with George Soros as an early investor, HNA created 410,000 jobs worldwide and built up assets of about $180 billion, according to the company. Guo Wengui, a wealthy Chinese businessman who now lives in exile, has alleged that HNA has secret financial ties to top Communist Party officials. HNA denied Guo’s claims.