Caixin
Jan 29, 2019 04:23 AM
POLITICS & LAW

Property Tycoon Detained in Shenzhen Graft Probe

Li Hua. Photo: Tsinghua University
Li Hua. Photo: Tsinghua University

A real estate billionaire who is well connected in China’s business and government circles may be in trouble over some of his connections.

Li Hua, founder and chairman of Shenzhen-based Excellence Real Estate Group, was detained in relation to the graft investigation of Li Huanan, the disgraced deputy party chief of Shenzhen, separate sources told Caixin.

The property tycoon was detained by authorities to “assist in investigation” of Li Huanan, sources said. Li Huanan, Shenzhen’s deputy party chief since 2015, was placed under investigation by the Communist Party’s top graft buster in October.

Li Hua started Excellence Real Estate in 1996 and listed the company in Hong Kong in 2009. In 2018, he ranked 67th on the Forbes China Rich list with personal assets of 24.8 billion yuan ($3.7 billion).

A person familiar with Li Hua said he has close relationships with Shenzhen government officials and has taken a number of positions in the city’s public organizations. He is a member of the city’s political advisory body and a deputy chairman of the Shenzhen General Chamber of Commerce.

Li Hua is also known for his extensive social network in business circles. In August 2018, when JD.com Chairman Richard Liu was accused of raping a Chinese student in the U.S., a personal assistant to Liu turned to Li Hua for help in brokering a settlement with the woman, Reuters reported, citing a recorded police interview with her.

U.S. prosecutors later dropped the charge against Liu, citing lack of evidence.

Little detail on the Li Huanan probe has been made public officially. A source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Caixin that Li Huanan has been repeatedly accused by whistleblowers of offering favors to a developer in local land acquisitions. Many in Shenzhen’s property industry say they think the developer is Excellence Real Estate.

A public document showed that Excellence Real Estate signed an agreement with authorities to take part in a city renovation project in the Guangming district in northwest Shenzhen in 2013 to demolish old buildings and rebuild new ones on an area of more than 100 hectares.

Li Huanan held a concurrent post as the governor of the Guangming district since 2016. A source close to the matter said Li Huanan had stepped up coordination with developers to push forward city renovation projects since he took the helm in the district.

“Li Hua and Li Huanan were very close at least at that time,” the source said.

In September last year, Zheng Kanghao, chairman of another Shenzhen-based developer, Wongtee International, was also detained by authorities in relation to the Li Huanan probe. Caixin learned that Zheng was released and resumed his duties in November.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)

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