One of China’s most high-profile bankers has vanished, the company he runs has reported.
It’s the latest incident of a business leader going missing in the country – and Beijing is suspected of being behind the disappearing act.
Bao Fan, the billionaire chairman and chief executive officer of investment bank China Renaissance, hasn’t been heard from in two days.
The 53-year-old had a prominent role in the financial and technology industries and had brokered deals for clients including Chinese ride hailing service DiDi.
Website Bloomberg called Mr Bao a “star banker”.
“Bao Fan’s knack for closing complicated deals and spotting rising tech stars made him one of China’s most influential financiers,” it said.
Shares in China Renaissance fell by half on Friday after the company said it had “been unable to contact Mr Bao Fan”. The shares later recovered but were still 30 per cent lower.
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.
Last September, the firm’s former president Cong Lin was also detained.
The firm’s board commented that it was not aware of “any information that indicates that Mr Bao’s unavailability is or might be related to the business and/or operations of the group”.
Mr Bao founded China Renaissance following a career at US bank Morgan Stanley and Swiss financial institution Credit Suisse.
He has been involved in many of the biggest tech mergers and deals in recent years including the merger of the country’s two biggest food deliver services Meituan and Dianping.
Chinese billionaires keep going missing
At least six Chinese billionaires have temporarily vanished in recent years.
President Xi Jinping has carried out an aggressive crackdown on alleged corruption. Some business people have gone missing after they made remarks that may have been seen as being critical of the authorities.
Perhaps the country’s most famous entrepreneur Jack Ma, who founded website Alibaba,
went missing for three months in 2020. It occurred just prior to the proposed stock market flotation of his Ant Financial firm which would have been the world’s biggest IPO.
The float would have made one of the world’s richest men even richer and more influential.
His disappearance came days after he criticised China’s financial regulator.
The share offering was subsequently cancelled and Mr Ma has ceded control of Ant Financial. He has also seen his wealth fall by an estimated $36 billion after his run in with authorities.
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 Mr 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, Mr 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.
However, those business giants at least managed to be avoid incarceration. Several business people who disappeared have then ended up in jail after corruption probes.
In 2020, Wren Zhiqiang, who was in real estate, went missing for several months after he criticised Xi Jinping’s handling of Covid-19. He was later jailed for 18 years on corruption charges.
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.
Mr 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, Mr 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 Mr Xiao’s disappearance that he was snatched by mainland Chinese agents — fuelling concern over China’s tightening influence in the financial hub.
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