Billionaire Zhou Chengjian, whose $4 billion clothing retail fortune makes him the 62nd-richest person in China, has mysteriously disappeared. He is only the latest in a line of Chinese business magnates to vanish, with the previous disappearance occurring only last month. It almost certainly is not the work of John Galt.
The obvious culprit would be the Chinese government, which is in a grumpy mood after recent economic reversals. The Politburo needs scapegoats, and it has been staging a high-profile crackdown on “corruption” for some time. The BBC relates Chinese media speculation that Zhou was quietly arrested as part of this anti-corruption drive.
Black-bag kidnappings in the dead of night are not the most obvious way to build public confidence in a crusading government. Zhou’s Shanghai-based company, Metersbonwe, was reduced to releasing a statement that it could not get in touch with either the chairman or his secretary – obviously a suspicious state of affairs in the age of ubiquitous cell phones – and announcing that it would halt trading of company stock “to protect investors’ interests.”
Before Zhou, there was the disappearance of Guo Guangchang, chairman of the diverse Fosun investment group, whose assets recently grew to include Club Med. Forbes described Guo, who is worth $5.7 billion and considered the 11th richest man in his country, as “China’s Warren Buffett.”
Guo went missing for a few days in early December, only to resurface at a Fosun corporate event without saying a word about his absence. The company, which had suspended trading of its stock during his absence much the way Metersbonwe is handling the disappearance of its chairman, announced that it “understood” Guo was “assisting in certain investigations carried out by Mainland judiciary authorities.”
Just a few days ago, Forbes reported that Guo was actually under investigation for a “severe disciplinary violation,” and is evidently linked to a Communist Party official named Ji Gang who also works for the Fosun group. The company’s stock fell over 5% when news of the allegations against Guo broke.
In November, chairman Yim Fung of Hong Kong’s Guotai Securities disappeared, along with two investment bankers at mainland China’s largest brokerage, Citic Securities. Yim Fung reappeared a month later, with a story about “assisting in certain investigations” very similar to what the Fosun group said about Guo Guangchang. There has been speculation the Chinese government is furious at bankers who sold the Chinese market short, profiting from its recent contractions.
Other disappearances reported by the Associated Press include chairman Zhang Weiyang of waste disposal company Dongjiang Environmental; Wu Yijian of retail conglomerate Century Ginwa; CEO Mike Poon of China Aircraft Leasing Group, who “resigned” suddenly while in the midst of an annual vacation over the summer; and chairman Wong Kwan of Pearl Oriental Oil, was kidnapped and held for ransom while due in court to face fraud charges.