Chinese tycoon dies in freak fall in France

Chinese tycoon dies in freak fall in France

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group Co-Chairman Wang Jian died during a business trip in France on July 3 in what local police said appeared to be an accidental fall from a wall while posing for a photograph.

French police said Mr Wang fell some 15m off a wall, and they were not treating his death as suspicious. He suffered a fall on the trip, HNA said, but did not reveal any further details. Other reports said Wang had fallen off a cliff while having his picture taken. HNA's other co-chairman, Chen Feng, and the group's top-ranking official, also holds a 15 percent stake.

Wang was instrumental during HNA's era of empire-building and its subsequent dismantlement. The conglomerate now has more than 10 airlines among its affiliated companies.

Hong Kong-listed CWT, a Singaporean commodities and logistics group acquired by HNA in late 2017, fell as much as 7.4% during the day before closing down 5.6%.

Wang, a devout Buddhist, set a goal for HNA to become one of the top companies in the Fortune 500, arguing it would be the most efficient way to raise its profile, one of the people said. HNA and subsidiaries now have 77 outstanding corporate bonds with payment obligations of 121 billion yuan ($18 billion), according to Bloomberg data.

Mr Wang helped turn HNA into one of the world's biggest companies, with assets in aviation, tourism and finance.

According to a pledge signed by the 12 stakeholders, Wang's shares will now be split between the NY and Hainan branches of the Hainan Cihang Charity Foundation, which own the majority stake in the HNA Group.

Speaking through their own interpreter, Mr Wang's travelling companions told police it had been an accident.

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"Wang Jian had a hereditary heart disease, and he had undergone heart surgery before", the source told Caixin.

But HNA came under pressure a year ago as Beijing cracked down on the risky debt-fuelled financing that enabled its expansion.

However, the company's expansion was derailed by the Chinese government's decision to curb overseas investment by private conglomerates on order to cut financial risks.

Other companies caught in the crackdown include energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy, insurance giant Anbang Insurance Group and real estate and entertainment company Wanda Group.

This year, HNA embarked on a major selling spree to pay down its debt, including divestiture of its Hilton stake purchased just two years earlier.

He was also the guest of honor at the Jewish Museum's 31st annual Purim Ball at the Park Avenue Armory in NY last year, where he was presented with a gift in front of 700 guests - a crystal bowl decorated with two gold roosters - to mark the Chinese calendar's year of the rooster.

HNA, the owner of Hainan Airlines, once symbolised the appetite of Chinese companies for assets outside of China.

Shareholders have promised that in the event of leaving the company or dying they would pass their stakes to the NY charity fund, according to a document seen by Reuters.

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