BEIJING, CHINA — China’s financial sector was jolted Friday by reports that Bao Fan, the billionaire chairman of investment bank China Renaissance, had gone missing.
No official statements were immediately made by authorities to explain his whereabouts, but there was widespread speculation the prominent businessman had fallen afoul of Beijing and was being held for questioning.
Several of China’s leading financiers have fallen from grace in recent years, as President Xi Jinping carries out an aggressive crackdown on alleged corruption.
Here are five of the most high-profile cases:
Agriculture tycoon Sun Dawu was issued an 18-year jail sentence in July 2021 for a range of offences following the conclusion of a trial behind closed doors.
The charismatic Sun and his wife built one of China’s biggest private agriculture companies starting with a few chickens and pigs in the 1980s.
Sun was found guilty of crimes including “gathering a crowd to attack state organs”, “obstructing government administration” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a catch-all term often used against dissidents.
The outspoken billionaire had also been a vocal champion of rural reforms and a whistleblower during a devastating swine fever outbreak in 2019, posting photos of dead pigs online after local officials were slow to respond to the disease.
Chinese-Canadian business magnate Xiao Jianhua, who disappeared from a Hong Kong hotel in 2017, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in August 2022 under charges of embezzlement and bribery.
Xiao’s company, Tomorrow Group, was fined $8 billion for “illegally absorbing public deposits, breaching trust in the use of entrusted property… (and) illegal use of funds”, according to a Shanghai court.
One of China’s richest people when he was allegedly abducted in 2017, Xiao reportedly had close connections to the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
Local media in Hong Kong had reported at the time of Xiao’s disappearance that he was snatched by mainland Chinese agents — fuelling concern over China’s tightening influence in the financial hub.
In one of the most visible examples of China’s tech sector crackdown, regulators pulled the plug on what would have been the world’s biggest-ever IPO — that of fintech giant Ant Group — in 2020 just days after its founder Jack Ma criticised local regulators.
Once the most recognisable face in Asian business, Ma has seen his fortune fall by around half to an estimated $25 billion after the decision to halt the IPO.
A reshuffle of Ant’s shareholding structure announced in January 2023 will now see Ma, who has since receded from public view, cede control of the fintech giant he founded in 2014.
He will hold just 6.2 per cent of the voting rights as the company moves to ensure “no shareholder, alone or jointly with other parties, will have control over Ant Group”, the firm said in a statement last month.
Billionaire Guo Guangchang, chairman of one of the country’s biggest private-sector conglomerates Fosun, vanished from public view in 2015 in connection with an investigation by authorities, before re-emerging days later.
The strange episode had a chilling effect on business leaders who thought Guo’s reputation for moral probity and outspoken support for the party was a bulwark against trouble.
An avid tai-chi practitioner with a reputation for clean living, Guo had seemed an unlikely target for Beijing’s inquisitors.
His disappearance seemed to violate an implicit bond of trust between the government and China’s top business leaders whose hard work and financial savvy fuelled China’s rise into the world’s second-largest economy.
Mao Xiaofeng, president of China’s largest privately-owned lender Minsheng Bank, was taken away for questioning in 2015 as part of a corruption investigation.
Respected business news outlet Caixin reported at the time that Mao was taken in to be investigated by the ruling Communist Party’s internal watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
Mao “has been asked to assist in the investigation of a high-ranking official”, Caixin reported.
The tycoon was also dismissed from his post as Minsheng’s Communist Party secretary.