Anbang Insurance Group chairman steps aside, purportedly detained

Anbang Insurance Group chairman steps aside, purportedly detained

Other senior executives will carry out his responsibilities, the Beijing-based company said.

Anbang's recent difficulties come during a highly sensitive year in China, with the ruling Communist Party set to hold its five-yearly party congress later this year, and amid a broader crackdown on corruption led by President Xi Jinping.

China's central bank was said to be looking into suspected breaches of anti-money laundering rules at the insurer late past year, while the authorities temporarily banned Anbang's life insurance unit from selling new products last month. It said officials of the insurance regulator announced the action the following day at a company meeting but gave no details.

The exact nature of Mr Wu's role in any government investigation has become the subject of widespread speculation.

Wu has authorized other executives to perform his duties, and Anbang's operations remain normal, a statement updated Wednesday on the company's website said. They would have been attempting to keep the situation stable by keeping Wu's case out of the public realm, said an insurance analyst with a state-owned fund company, who didn't wish to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

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Spokespeople for Anbang did not respond to phone calls or emails.

This isn't the first time Anbang has landed itself in hot water with Chinese authorities. Prominent financier Xiao Jianhua was taken by agents from a Hong Kong hotel earlier this year and presumed to have been brought back to China, according to local media reports. Local media reported the group that took him away were mainland Chinese agents, which Chinese authorities have not commented on.

Anbang was founded in 2004 as a sleepy provincial auto insurer and has since grown into an aggressive overseas buyer of insurers and real estate.

Outside of China, Anbang's deal-making has faltered as well. Kushner's purview at the White House includes relations with China.

Anbang added a life unit in 2010 and turbocharged its expansion in 2014 by selling single-premium, high-yield policies - many of which could be redeemed in two years at a profit.

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Anbang has more than 30,000 employees serving 35 million clients and has interests in life insurance, banking, asset management, leasing and brokerage services.

The chairman of Anbang Insurance Group - which pulled out of negotiations to redevelop Kushner Companies' 666 Fifth Avenue - turned over his duties for "personal reasons" amid new claims that he has been detained by Chinese authorities. The Waldorf acquisition was followed in short order by bids for six luxury resorts in the United States, including the landmark Hotel del Coronado near San Diego, California.

Anbang had separately sought to list its life insurance business in Hong Kong and invited banks last August to pitch for the deal, sources familiar with the matter said at the time.

Anbang has been under scrutiny since a multibillion-dollar global string of asset purchases, including buying the Waldorf for $2 billion, raised questions about how it was paying for its buying spree. Ping An Insurance Group Co. slid as much as 3 per cent. Anbang isn't publicly traded. Its planned $1.6-billion takeover of USA annuities and life insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life collapsed in April after failing to get the required US regulatory approval.

Anbang drew worldwide attention in 2014, as it snapped up real estate and financial-services companies in Asia, the USA and Europe, often at large premiums.

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