China anti-graft body probing chief insurance regulator Xiang Junbo

Xiang Junbo was said to be suspected of "serious disciplinary violations" - a phrase that usually refers to graft.
Xiang Junbo was said to be suspected of "serious disciplinary violations" - a phrase that usually refers to graft.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - The head of China's insurance regulator is being investigated for suspected disciplinary violations, the country's top anti-graft body said on Sunday (April 9), bringing the most senior financial regulator to date into the government's fight against corruption.

China's top leaders have pledged this year to address financial risks and asset bubbles.

In a brief statement, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said Xiang Junbo, head of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) and a member of the central bank's monetary policy committee, was suspected of "serious disciplinary violations" - a phrase that usually refers to graft.

It gave no further details.

As of Sunday afternoon, Xiang's name and position remained on the website of the CIRC, www.circ.gov.cn.

As head of the insurance regulator, Xiang oversaw rapid growth of the insurance industry, along with liberalisation of investment rules that provided insurers greater latitude to invest more of their assets at home and overseas.

China's insurance assets nearly doubled over the last three years, reaching 15.1 trillion yuan (S$3.07 trillion) at the end of 2016.

In February, Xiang appeared at a press conference where he vowed the insurance regulator would take more punitive action to punish short-term speculators and reduce long-term risk.

Xiang said CIRC wouldn't allow the insurance industry to become "a rich man's club" or hideout for "financial crocodiles".

The regulator has intensified a crackdown on risky activity by some aggressive players in the insurance sector, particularly those seen to be engaging in financial market speculation using expensive short-term funds.

Xiang took control of the insurance regulator in 2011 after serving as chairman of Agricultural Bank of China Ltd , one of the four biggest state banks.

Xiang would be the most senior regulator hauled in during the anti-graft campaign since Yao Gang, a former deputy head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, was put under investigation in late 2015 following a stock market crash.

President Xi Jinping is leading a campaign against corruption that is tearing down once-untouchable party, military and business leaders as well as their powerful networks of relatives and allies.

Wang Yincheng, vice chairman of state-owned People's Insurance Group of China was brought in for suspected corruption in February.

Earlier this year, the chief risk officer of Bank Of Communications Co Ltd was expelled from his post for serious discipline violations, and a former Communist Party boss at Bank of Jiangsu Co Ltd was investigated for suspected corruption.