Chinese billionaire steps aside amid detention report


BEIJING - The chairman of a Chinese insurance group that sought a business deal with the family of US President Donald Trump's son-in-law has stepped aside following a report that he was taken away by authorities.

Officials from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission notified Anbang that Wu was "taken away" on Friday, but they did not explain why, according to Caijing, a Chinese magazine.

Caijing's report appeared online on Tuesday but it has since been taken down.

Anbang said in a statement on Wednesday that Wu is "temporarily unable to perform his duties for personal reasons", but the company did not mention his apparent detention.

Phone calls to the regulatory commission went unanswered on Wednesday.

The report comes as Chinese authorities are engaged in a battle against corruption in their ranks and in the business world.

Financial regulators are also scrambling to ease fears of a looming debt crisis with measures to rein in risky lending and acquisitions in real estate.

Official heads have rolled too, including China's insurance regulator Xiang Junbo, who was sacked in April and faces an investigation. Histenure coincided with a surge in speculative investments by Chinese insurers.

Caijing, citing an unidentified source in the financial world, said regulators may be investigating Anbang's compliance with insurance products or insurance fund investments.

Anbang held controversial negotiations with the company owned by Trump's White House adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for an investment in an office tower on New York's famous Fifth Avenue.

But the talks broke off in March after critics of the Trump administration warned of a potential conflict of interest.

Established just 13 years ago, Anbang has grown from a domestic seller of property insurance into a financial services powerhouse, making a name for itself abroad by buying New York's historic Waldorf Astoria hotel for a record US$1.95 billion (S$2.7 billion) in 2014.

But in April US insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life turned down a US$1.6 billion acquisition bid by Anbang.

While Wu has stepped down, Anbang said in its statement that business continues "as usual".