China probes chief of top insurance regulator for graft

Xiang Junbo heads the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.
Xiang Junbo heads the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

BEIJING • The head of China's top insurance regulatory body is being investigated, the country's anti-corruption watchdog said yesterday in an announcement that could signal problems for some of China's most powerful companies.

Xiang Junbo is being probed for "suspected serious violation of the Party's code of conduct", the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement on its website.

The phrase is often a euphemism for corruption.

Xiang took the top spot at the China Insurance Regulatory Commission in 2011 after heading the Agricultural Bank of China, one of the biggest state banks.

He is also a member of the central bank's monetary policy committee.

Various Chinese regulatory agencies have trained their sights on the insurance industry, complaining about companies' use of their financial holdings to fund risky acquisitions in real estate and unlisted equities.

In February, Beijing announced investigations into several major insurance companies, including Evergrande Life and Foresea Life, for alleged market manipulation.

The announcement came after the chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission singled out the industry as a home for "barbarians" and "thieves" who engaged in debt-fuelled stock market acquisitions.

The president of PICC, the country's first non-life insurance company, is also currently being probed for corruption.

Rumours about a possible investigation into Xiang have been swirling for months.

He is no stranger to scandal. In 2014, the New York Times reported that he approached JP Morgan executives to secure a job for the child of a well-connected friend.

Last November, JP Morgan Chase agreed to pay a US$264 million (S$370 million) settlement to the US government after it had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by handing out jobs to the friends and family of top Chinese officials under similar circumstances in exchange for preferential treatment.

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'China probes chief of top insurance regulator for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe