China firm denies ex-premier's daughter brokered Zurich deal

China firm denies ex-premier's daughter brokered Zurich deal

SHANGHAI - A Chinese tycoon has denied allegations the daughter of a former leader brokered an illegal deal for Swiss giant Zurich Insurance to buy into one of his companies, state media reported Monday.

Britain's Telegraph newspaper said last week that Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, helped arrange a multi-million-dollar deal in 1995 for Zurich to buy into a Chinese insurer - long before foreign companies were allowed to make such investments.

The Telegraph said Li introduced Zurich executives to three Chinese businessmen, including the chairman of a conglomerate called Orient Group, who held a majority stake in New China Life.

Zurich bought almost a quarter of New China Life after it paid the businessmen US$16.9 million as a "good faith fee", some of which was used to bribe government officials to allow the deal, the Telegraph said.

Its allegations were reported in unusual detail Monday by Chinese state-run media, which often ignore overseas revelations of officials' wrongdoing.

"The woman surnamed Li mentioned in media reports never participated in any business operations of the company and affiliated firms," the Beijing Times newspaper said, quoting a statement by Orient Group chairman Zhang Hongwei.

It did not give Li Xiaolin's full name, nor did it identify her as the daughter of Li Peng, who was China's premier under President Jiang Zemin in the mid-1990s.

"Related issues claimed by the reports are purely vicious slander," Zhang said in the statement, which was posted on the firm's website Sunday.

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