Anbang ex-chairman seeks leniency at trial

Prosecutors said Wu Xiaohui concealed his control over Chinese insurer Anbang and faked financial statements to cheat China's insurance regulator over approvals to sell insurance products to the public for investment.
Prosecutors said Wu Xiaohui concealed his control over Chinese insurer Anbang and faked financial statements to cheat China's insurance regulator over approvals to sell insurance products to the public for investment.PHOTO: REUTERS

He now expresses regret for economic crimes like fraud, after earlier contesting the charges

SHANGHAI • The former chairman of China's Anbang Insurance Group requested leniency at the end of his high-profile trial in Shanghai for alleged economic crimes, including fraud and embezzlement involving more than US$10 billion (S$13.1 billion), according to court statements.

Wu Xiaohui had contested the charges against him during the proceedings on Wednesday but in a closing statement appeared to reverse course, saying he understood and regretted the crimes, the court said on an official social media feed.

The one-day trial came a month after the government seized control of Anbang, owner of New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel, capping the company's precipitous downfall amid Beijing's crackdown on financial risk.

The Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court said Wu had "expressed deep self-reflection, understanding of and regret for the crimes, and expressed deep remorse for his actions" in his closing statement, according to an online post seen by Reuters yesterday. "(He) thanked the justice system for its help, education and remedy, and requested a light sentence," it said.

The court said it would issue a verdict at an unspecified later date.

Founded in 2004, Anbang became one of the most aggressive investors behind a wave of overseas acquisitions by China's firms in recent years that has attracted the attention of global regulators and investors.

Its downfall was swift, as was Wu's, highlighting Beijing's resolve in a sweeping campaign to deleverage the economy, cut financial risk and discourage what it sees as profligate investing by large companies.

On Wednesday, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court issued a stream of updates on the case, with alleged details that provide a rare glimpse into the conglomerate's complex ownership structure and fund-raising activities.

Prosecutors said Wu had concealed his control over Anbang and faked financial statements to cheat China's insurance regulator over approvals to sell insurance products to the public for investment.

He broke the rules by telling his company to sell investment-purpose insurance products that exceeded the approved amount, the court said.

By Jan 5 last year, it said, Anbang had oversold 724 billion yuan (S$151 billion) of insurance products and transferred some of the funds to Wu's other companies for investment, debt repayment and personal spending.

All told, Wu was accused of swindling 65.2 billion yuan.

He raised objections during the proceedings, contesting alleged facts and charges, according to the court statements.

He claimed he did not understand the law and did not know whether his behaviour constituted a crime. He also believed he had not violated regulatory restrictions.

Wu, known for his hard-driving, hands-on approach and single-minded ambition, has been detained since June last year, sources have said.

The crimes that he has been accused of are punishable by up to life imprisonment, according to the criminal code.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2018, with the headline 'Anbang ex-chairman seeks leniency at trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe