Allegations Emerge of Fraud at Scandal-Hit Bad Asset Manager
Scandal-ridden bad asset giant China Huarong Asset Management Co. Ltd.’s crisis shows no sign of ending, as possible links to two suspected cases of fraud have emerged. Altogether, these two cases may have caused the company to lose over $1 billion.
Speculation began last month after Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) ordered three brokers to freeze assets up to HK$10.17 billion ($1.3 billion) owned by an unnamed chairman of a public company, pending a probe into possible fraud in which the chairman colluded with certain executives from a group to pull off two deals that might have lost the group HK$10.17 billion.
The SFC’s statement, published by the local government’s official gazette in late September, didn’t name any individual or company. However, shareholder activist and veteran investment banker David Webb claimed on his website that the individual was likely Yang Zhihui, chairman of Hong Kong-listed casino operator Landing International Development Ltd., and the money-losing group was likely Huarong. Webb also claimed the assets were the largest ever ordered frozen in the city’s history.
Some of the details revealed by the SFC match Yang, Webb wrote, and Caixin has learned that Landing International has close business ties with embattled state-owned Huarong, whose former head is under investigation in what may be the People’s Republic of China’s largest financial-sector corruption case since its founding in 1949.
The Hong Kong regulator said that the unnamed businessman is missing and might be abroad or facing a corruption-related investigation in China. Yang’s Landing International said in late August and again on Tuesday that it has lost contact with its chairman. Caixin has learned that he was detained at an airport in Cambodia in late August.
According to the SFC, the three brokers are Kingston Securities Ltd., Satinu Markets Ltd. and HSBC Broking Securities (Asia) Ltd.
Kingston Securities has been behind several Landing International equity transactions over the past few years, and Yang is reportedly close to the couple who own its parent company, Kingston Financial Group. Chu Yuet-Wah, Kingston Financial’s CEO reportedly celebrated her 60th birthday in August at the Landing International casino on South Korea’s Jeju Island. Satinu has custody of 50.48% of Landing shares, which exactly matches Yang's declared stake, Webb said.
Webb is deputy chairman of the SFC's Takeovers and Mergers Panel and was an independent non-executive director of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd., which operates the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
In response to a request by Caixin, the SFC said it had no comment on Webb’s speculation.
Two fraudulent deals
In the SFC statement, it pointed out two deals that it said led to the massive losses at the group. In the first transaction, the unnamed individual is suspected of colluding with certain managers at the group, which led to the group purchasing shares from the individual “on terms which were unfavourable to the purchaser,” the SFC said.
Webb said that the deal may refer to a transaction in 2015 when Huarong bought from Yang a HK$1.44 billion stake in Telefield Holdings Ltd., now renamed China Healthcare Enterprise Group Ltd. Telefield was an electronic components manufacturer controlled by Yang. The deal generated more than HK$800 million of net profit for Yang but left Huarong with an 80% loss on its investment, or HK$1.15 billion, when it sold the stake in 2017. Shares of Telefield depreciated by more than 50% over the period.
“It is reasonably suspected that the true purpose was to enable the person to profit from the transaction at the expense of the group,” the SFC concluded.
The second deal involved the chairman selling his stake in a private company to the group at a significant overvaluation, the SFC said. Webb said that it isn’t yet clear what deal this refers to, but it was worth at least HK$9.02 billion.
Shares of Huarong dropped 2.17% on Friday, while Landing International shares declined 3.3%.
Wei Yiyang contributed reporting to this article.
Contact reporter Coco Feng (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This story has been corrected to reflect that David Webb is currently deputy chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission's Takeovers and Mergers Panel
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