The co-chairman of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group fell off a cliff in the south of France on Tuesday and died.
Wang Jian, who founded the embattled group 25 years ago, was having his photograph taken in the village of Bonnieux when he fell from a retaining wall on a 49-foot cliff, according to wire reports. French authorities said the death wasn’t viewed as suspicious, according to Bloomberg. He was 57.
The death of Jian, the second-in-command, is likely to send short-term jitters to a company that is frantically selling off assets to get on the right side of Chinese regulators and lenders.
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Under Jian and Chen Feng, HNA, once a regional airline company, embarked on a phenomenal asset spree starting in 2015, laying out over $40 billion across six continents for significant stakes in Deutsche Bank, Hilton Worldwide Hotels and properties in Hong Kong, London and New York.
Those high-leverage plays drew the scrutiny of government officials and threaten the viability of the company, which has debts totaling over $90 billion and has already sold off $14 billion worth of properties this year. New York’s biggest office landlord, SL Green Realty, is reported in late-stage negotiations to acquire a controlling stake in office tower 245 Park Avenue, which HNA bought in 2016 for $2.21 billion. HNA paid about $1,300 a square foot for the property, considered above-market value. It also recently refinanced a property it owns with MHP Real Estate for $342 million.
Chen and Jian both owned 15 percent stakes in the company, according to HNA’s financial filings. Executives last year said the firm would eventually be entirely owned by the opaque charities that currently hold a majority stake.
The times have not been kind to Chinese business titans of late. In the last 18 months, the former head of Anbang Insurance Group was sentenced to prison, and the heads of Dalian Wanda Group and FoSun International were detained by government regulators. [Bloomberg] — James Kleimann