China’s insurance regulator said Friday it will take control of troubled Anbang Insurance Group for a year in an unprecedented seizure by the Chinese government of a major non-state company.
The dramatic move by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) came as the Shanghai prosecutors office also announced that Anbang’s chairman and key shareholder, Wu Xiaohui, had recently been charged with fraud and abuse of his position. He had been arrested in June 2017.
“This appears to be an unprecedented takeover — a Chinese-style hostile takeover,” Scott Kennedy, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters.
“The Chinese government doesn’t want to have a company default on foreign debt and it also wants to teach a lesson to other Chinese business people that the [Communist] Party is in charge,” he added.
Anbang has been one of China’s most active overseas investors under Beijing’s liberalized offshore investment rules, buying, among other things, the Waldorf Astoria in New York for $1.95 billion. It claims $310.85 billion in assets and ranks 139 on the Global Fortune 500 list.
The overseas investments by Anbang and other Chinese companies “illustrated China’s growing economic might but fed into concerns that rising debt levels could slow growth in the world’s second-largest economy,” The New York Times reported.
“The deals have also raised questions over who controls many of these companies and whether they have ties to China’s top leaders,” The Times said. “Anbang in particular came under scrutiny in the United States and elsewhere for its opaque ownership structure and for [Wu’s] political ties.”
The CIRC said Anbang had violated regulations, putting into question its solvency, and would be overseen for a year by a group that includes China’s central bank and other government agencies.
At present, the CIRC said, the company’s operations are “stable.”
“Clearly a message is being fed back into the market and to private companies that being very innovative may not be looked on favorably in the long run,” said Keith Pogson, senior partner for Asia-Pacific financial services at EY.