Friday 22 February 2019

Xi fires warning as China probes energy tycoon


Chinese President Xi Jinping has cracked down on financial risks. Photo: Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping has cracked down on financial risks. Photo: Getty Images

Keith Zhai and Alfred Cang

President Xi Jinping's government has fired another warning shot at global dealmakers doing business with Chinese billionaires: not even the most well-connected tycoons are safe.

Ye Jianming, who runs the conglomerate CEFC China Energy, has been investigated by authorities, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The news, first reported by local media outlet Caixin, comes shortly after Xi's government seized Anbang Insurance Group, a global empire whose once-influential founder, Wu Xiaohui, is detained while facing fraud charges.

The scrutiny Ye is now drawing shows how little protection wealth and international connections provide elites in Xi's China. While many billionaires continue to thrive - including Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent Holdings - others have seen a swift downfall as Xi uses his increased powers to crack down on financial risks.

The reported investigation "shows that Chinese politics is not just opaque to outsiders, but to insiders as well," said Trey McArver, co-founder of Trivium/China, which advises companies that work in the country. "Both Ye and Wu convinced a lot of people within China, including powerful businessmen, regulators, etc, that they were well connected."

CEFC is operating normally and the media reports about Ye are "unfounded" and "irresponsible," according to a statement on the company's website.

Since coming to power, Xi has moved to halt the debt-fuelled expansion of China's biggest businesses, and pushed an anti-corruption campaign that has already nabbed more than 1.5 million Communist Party cadres.



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