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Hong Kong tycoon and ex-deputy leader lose graft appeal
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) June 14, 2017

Chinese billionaire steps aside amid detention report
Beijing (AFP) June 14, 2017 - The chairman of a Chinese insurance group that sought a business deal with the family of US President Donald Trump's son-in-law has stepped aside following a report that he was taken away by authorities.

Officials from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission notified Anbang that Wu Xiaohui was "taken away" on Friday, but they did not explain why, according to Caijing, a Chinese magazine.

Caijing's report appeared online on Tuesday but it has since been taken down.

Anbang said in a statement on Wednesday that Wu is "temporarily unable to perform his duties for personal reasons", but the company did not mention his apparent detention.

Phone calls to the regulatory commission went unanswered on Wednesday.

The report comes as Chinese authorities are engaged in a battle against corruption in their ranks and in the business world.

Financial regulators are also scrambling to ease fears of a looming debt crisis with measures to rein in risky lending and acquisitions in real estate.

Official heads have rolled too, including China's insurance regulator Xiang Junbo, who was sacked in April and faces an investigation. His tenure coincided with a surge in speculative investments by Chinese insurers.

Caijing, citing an unidentified source in the financial world, said regulators may be investigating Anbang's compliance with insurance products or insurance fund investments.

Anbang held controversial negotiations with the company owned by Trump's White House adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for an investment in an office tower on New York's famous Fifth Avenue.

But the talks broke off in March after critics of the Trump administration warned of a potential conflict of interest.

Established just 13 years ago, Anbang has grown from a domestic seller of property insurance into a financial services powerhouse, making a name for itself abroad by buying New York's historic Waldorf Astoria hotel for a record $1.95 billion in 2014.

But in April US insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life turned down a $1.6 billion acquisition bid by Anbang.

While Wu has stepped down, Anbang said in its statement that business continues "as usual".

Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok and ex-deputy leader Rafael Hui will serve out their jail terms after their final appeal bids against graft convictions were dismissed Wednesday.

The pair were found guilty of corruption in 2014 after a blockbuster trial over a cash-for-favours scandal.

In a written judgement, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that they had been "properly convicted of the offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office".

Kwok had been on bail since July pending the appeal, but will now be back behind bars.

Former chief secretary Hui, 69, is the highest-ranking official in Hong Kong's history to be found guilty of taking bribes.

The seven-month trial centred on some HK$34 million ($4.3 million) in handouts, which the prosecution said were made to Hui by Kwok and his billionaire brother Raymond, to be their "eyes and ears" in government.

Hui was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in December 2014, while 65-year-old Kwok -- who was joint chairman of Hong Kong's biggest property company, Sun Hung Kai -- was sentenced to five years.

They lost an initial appeal bid in February last year before going to the Court of Final Appeal.

The case shocked the city and deepened anger over cosy ties between officialdom and big business.

Hui, Kwok, Kwan and Chan will serve out their sentences in the maximum security Stanley Prison.

Raymond Kwok was cleared of all charges during the 2014 trial.

The judgement said that Hui had been in "golden fetters" after he accepted a payment of HK$8.5 million shortly before he became deputy leader, when it was already known he would take up the position.

It added that the payment had been made to ensure an "ongoing inclination" on the part of Hui towards the Kwoks' company.

Hong Kong has been seen as relatively graft-free. But new cases in the semi-autonomous Chinese city have fuelled public suspicions over links between authorities and business leaders.

In a separate high-profile corruption case, former leader Donald Tsang, who ended his term in disgrace after accepting favours from tycoons, was jailed for 20 months in February after a trial found him guilty of misconduct while in office.

Hui was Tsang's chief secretary from 2005 to 2007.

Tsang, 72, was the highest-ranking Hong Kong official ever to be convicted in a criminal trial and jailed.

He was found guilty of failing to disclose his plans to lease a luxury flat from a major investor in a broadcaster, which was later granted a licence from the government while he was leader.

China web users take aim at property clampdown
Shanghai (AFP) June 11, 2017
Chinese social media users on Sunday angrily criticised a Shanghai government crackdown on unauthorised real estate activity after images emerged online showing an apparent protest in the city over the restrictions. Pictures and video have circulated showing hundreds of people engaged in a tense stand-off with police, said to have taken place late Saturday night in a busy central Shanghai sh ... read more

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