Fall of 'Sun King' and his empire

Fall of 'Sun King' and his empire

SYDNEY - For solar power tycoon Shi Zhengrong, aka the "Sun King", his spectacular rise from humble beginnings in China to wealth and global fame has been matched only by his sudden fall and the swift collapse of his empire.

The younger of twin brothers born in 1963, he was given up for adoption by his poverty-stricken parents in a farming village on the Yangtze River. More than four decades later, he would become not only the richest person in China but also the world's first solar billionaire. In 2007, Time magazine hailed him as a "hero of the environment".

But the tycoon's fall has been rapid, as has the demise of his massive solar panel empire.

Dr Shi is reportedly barred from leaving China and faces possible charges over unspecified allegations of "wrongdoing". Chinese media reported that he has been accused of tax evasion and fraudulently claiming export rebates.

Suntech Power, which he founded in 2001, was the first solar energy company to list on the New York Stock Exchange and, just a year ago, it was the world's largest producer of solar panels.

But poor management and a flooding of the solar panel market caused the company to default on US$541 million (S$671 million) worth of bonds two weeks ago and it was forced to declare bankruptcy.

In a final humiliation, Dr Shi, 50, whose fortune was as high as US$2.9 billion (S$3.6 billion) in 2009, was dumped as company chairman.

The fall of the scientist-entrepreneur made headlines in Australia, where Dr Shi, an Australian citizen, established his career and received some of his highest praise. He was on good terms with former prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

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