Missing China-born tycoon’s company says operating as normal, shares slump

The Tomorrow Group building is seen in Beijing on Feb 1, 2017.
The Tomorrow Group building is seen in Beijing on Feb 1, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) -  Listed firms controlled by Tomorrow Holdings, the company run by missing Chinese-born businessman Xiao Jianhua, slumped on Friday (Feb 3), despite the parent group saying its businesses were all operating normally.

Mystery swirled around billionaire Xiao’s whereabouts earlier this week, with some reports saying he had been abducted from Hong Kong and taken to mainland China.

A statement purportedly from Mr Xiao posted in a Hong Kong newspaper said he was seeking medical treatment “outside the country”.

Hong Kong police told Reuters that Mr Xiao had entered mainland China through a border checkpoint on Jan 27 and that they were seeking more information from Chinese authorities.

Tomorrow Holdings, a financial group headquartered in Beijing, said in a statement on its official microblog late on Thursday that its own operations were unaffected.

 “The production activities of Tomorrow Holdings and its subsidiaries are operating as normal,” the company said in a statement on messaging service WeChat. “We thank everyone for their interest and deep love for Mr Xiao Jianhua and our firm.” 

However, shares in firms directly or indirectly controlled by Tomorrow Group slumped on Friday, with Baotou Huazi Industry Co Ltd and Xishui Strong Year Co Ltd Inner Mongolia both down the maximum 10 per cent.

In a notice, dated Feb 3 and posted on the door of its listed Beijing office, the firm said it had not been told to cooperate in any legal investigations, adding it could use legal means to go after media outlets for spreading rumours.

The office appeared to be unused, and a receptionist at the building told a Reuters reporter that the company had moved. He was unable to give further details. 

 
 
 

Despite conflicting accounts of Mr Xiao’s whereabouts, the case has echoes of the abduction in Hong Kong last year of five staff who worked for a bookseller that published gossip on China’s leaders.

Three of those staff were detained while in China, but two with foreign passports were taken there against their will from Thailand and Hong Kong.

Mr Xiao is ranked 32nd on the 2016 Hurun China rich list, China's equivalent of the Forbes list, with a net worth of US$5.97 billion (S$8.5 billion).

The South China Morning Post reported on Friday that his wife Zhou Hongwen is now taking charge of the company's operations. A source said Mr Xiao's wife, as a family member, was still able to communicate with her husband.

The newspaper reported that Hong Kong police were checking roadside surveillance footage around the city to try to trace the movements of Mr Xiao before he disappeared from the Four Seasons Hotel where he was staying last Friday.

The report cited a senior government source as saying that Mr Xiao left the hotel "smoothly" with two female bodyguards and six other unidentified people in plain clothes at around 3am last Friday.

The group was picked up by two cars at the main entrance of the hotel and Mr Xiao crossed the border into China's Shenzhen city in a vehicle at Lok Ma Chau at 3pm on Friday.