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Published: Sat, July 07, 2018
Economy | By Melissa Porter

HNA Group Co-Chairman Dies in Accident

HNA Group Co-Chairman Dies in Accident

Wang Jian, the cofounder and chairman of one of China's biggest conglomerates, HNA, has died during a business trip in France, the company said on Wednesday.

The company did not give the circumstances of Wang's death or provide an exact location. Local French media reported that a Chinese tourist the same age as Wang died while trying to take a photo on some steps near a church. Authorities in France have confirmed Mr Wang's death is not being treated as suspicious.

He was in charge of HNA's strategy and ran day-to-day operations, sources familiar with the matter have said, while his fellow chairman and co-founder Chen Feng was often the public face of the group.

Today HNA, based on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, is best known as the owner of Hainan Airlines Co (600221.SS) and for holding stakes in Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc (HLT.N). His death may complicate HNA's efforts to restructure assets and pay off debts after years of reckless spending. It also has finance, logistics and technology businesses. In November, HNA sold China's most expensive short-term dollar bond, and a month later China Citic Bank said a unit of the group had repayment difficulties. HNA's latest annual report showed the group had more than $US90 billion in debt.

Wang, the second-highest ranking executive at the group, owned about 15 percent of the Chinese conglomerate, making him one of the group's biggest shareholders, according to HNA's last update of its ownership structure. According to the forecasts we are talking about the deals for $ 14 billion.

"HNA Wang Jian died" briefly ranked 11th on the Twitter-like Weibo's hot topics page, but was quickly gone from the top 50. Wang was unconsciousness after falling from the wall.

According to various sources, he fell between 12m (39ft) and 15m (49ft). "He had been under great pressure recently".

One of China's most acquisitive companies, HNA has been under heavy financial and regulatory pressure since past year because of its heavy debt load.

Fearful of the economic risks from almost a decade of expansion, these massive conglomerates have become known as "Gray Rhinos" or rogue "creatures" that tend to charge at any moment, wreaking financial havoc.

Other companies caught in the crackdown include energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy, insurance giant Anbang Insurance Group and real estate and entertainment company Wanda Group.

Maybe, but only time will tell if the company will continue its restructuring program or end up in the "Gray Rhino" trap.

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