China Is Cracking Down on Bankers. Here Are Some of the Targets.
For years, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has railed against greed and corruption in the country’s financial sector, making an example of a few prominent figures along the way.
But recently, the anti-graft campaign has kicked into overdrive, sweeping up a who’s who from the country’s financial and insurance sector as Mr. Xi and the Chinese Communist Party seek to consolidate control over a critical facet of the economy.
China’s anti-corruption officials warned bankers in February that it would “investigate and deal with the people who neglect the party’s leadership.” They directed the finance executives to embrace the party’s values and avoid emulating what they see as the West’s singular focus on money.
In addition to the discipline campaign, China has carried out sweeping reforms of its financial regulatory system, while deeply embedding party officials into state-owned financial institutions.
Mr. Xi and his deputies are using the disciplinary cases to force party loyalty on the financial system, said Wu Qiang, a current affairs writer and a political analyst in Beijing.
“They can only do it through the control of personnel changes, and run the party’s leadership through it,” Mr. Wu said.
The lengths to which the government would go to knock down prominent business figures became apparent in 2017 when the police snatched Xiao Jianhua, a China-born billionaire known for managing assets for the country’s ruling elite, from his apartment at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year.
The party later stepped in to effectively stop Jack Ma, co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, from going forward with what would have been a blockbuster stock offering of Ant Financial in 2020. Ant, the financial sister company of Alibaba, scrapped its plans and Mr. Ma this year agreed to give up control of Ant.
In 2022, Chinese regulators said they punished banking and insurance institutions 4,620 times, a 19 percent increase from a year earlier, while issuing 7,561 penalties to officials, up 26 percent.
“Disciplining finance is a potent way to keep elites in check,” said Yuen Yuen Ang, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University.
Since the start of this year, dozens of Chinese executives and senior officials in the country’s financial sector have been put under investigation or sanctioned, according to the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog, and the National Supervisory Commission, the government regulator that works in concert with the discipline commission.
Here are some of the prominent figures and firms that have been caught up in the dragnet this year.
Liu Ti, Shanghai Stock Exchange
Liu Ti, the former deputy general manager of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, is under investigation for suspicion of duty-related violations of law. The authorities have not revealed the reasons for the inquiry. The Shanghai Stock Exchange did not respond to requests for comment.
Li Xiaopeng, China Everbright
Li Xiaopeng, the former party secretary and chairman of China Everbright Group, a giant state-owned financial firm, is under review for alleged violations of discipline and law.
According to Chinese media reports, employees of Everbright Xinglong Trust in Shenzhen were taken away by the authorities in April, likely in connection with the investigation of Mr. Li. At issue is a real estate project in Shenzhen that Everbright worked on with several developers.
China Everbright Group’s party committee — leadership units inside state-owned enterprises that report to the Communist Party — said that it “firmly supports” the decision to investigate Mr. Li and would “fully cooperate” with the anti-graft regulators.
Huang Xianhui, Huarong Asset Management
Huang Xianhui, the former party secretary and general manager of Beijing Branch of China Huarong Asset Management, is under investigation for suspicion of duty-related violations of law.
Huarong Asset Management, a so-called bad debt firm established in 1999, is one of four major state-owned companies set up after the Asia financial crisis to take over loans and other assets that had plunged in value.
In January 2021, Lai Xiaomin, the former chairman of Huarong, was sentenced to death on charges of bribery, corruption and bigamy after taking some $277 million in bribes. He was executed several weeks later in a rare use in China of capital punishment for economic crimes.
Liu Liange, Bank of China
Liu Liange, former party secretary and president of the Bank of China, is under investigation by the country’s top anti-corruption watchdogs.
Mr. Liu was removed as the party secretary of the bank in February and a month later resigned as president and other roles. The Bank of China, a state-owned commercial lender, is the focus of claims of misappropriation of funds, the improper classification of the risks of certain loans and other alleged offenses.
On the same day Mr. Liu was removed as party secretary of the bank, regulators disclosed that the bank had been fined, along with four other financial institutions, for similar violations.
At least four other senior executives of the Bank of China have been put under investigation since the beginning of the year for alleged violations of discipline and law.
Tian Huiyu, China Merchants Bank
Tian Huiyu, an economist and banker who served from 2013 to 2022 as president of China Merchants Bank, whose shares trade in Shanghai and Hong Kong, has been under investigation since April 2022 on suspicion of insider trading and leaking insider information.
In February, Chinese prosecutors filed a case against Mr. Tian, accusing him of bribery, insider trading and leaking insider information. The prosecution also accused Mr. Tian of “abusing power for personal gain that caused particularly heavy losses to national interests.”
Wang Liang, president of China Merchants Bank, said in October 2022 that “Tian Huiyu’s case is only a personal incident and has no direct relationship with CMB.”
Bao Fan, China Renaissance Holdings
China Renaissance Holdings made a stunning announcement on Feb. 16: It had been “unable to contact” Bao Fan, the firm’s chairman and chief executive and a prominent investment banker in the technology sector. The company’s stock price plunged after the disclosure.
Mr. Bao’s disappearance sent a chilling message to the industry about the reach of Beijing’s crackdown on the business elite. Chinese media reported that the authorities had taken him in to assist in an investigation of a former senior executive of his company.
The company issued a statement on Feb. 26 that Mr. Bao was “cooperating in an investigation” by Chinese authorities. There has been no update from the company about Mr. Bao Fan’s whereabouts since then.
Zhou Gaoxiong, Guangdong Rural Credit Union
Zhou Gaoxiong, the former party secretary and chairman of the Guangdong Rural Credit Union, was expelled from the party in January after being accused of serious duty violations and suspected bribery crimes. Mr. Zhou, who had retired three years earlier, was also forced to give up his pension benefits.
The move continued a crackdown on China’s rural banks after a scandal in Henan Province last year when rural banks refused to let depositors withdraw their money, causing waves of protests.
The authorities started the investigation of Mr. Zhou for alleged violations of discipline and law last November.