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28 February 2024

Missing Chinese tycoon rose from rags to riches

A Chinese billionaire has been abducted in Hong Kong by mainland agents. (AFP)


Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua's reported abduction from Hong Kong by mainland security agents has shone a spotlight on the business dealings and political connections of the financier some local media have dubbed China's J.P. Morgan.

Xiao went from a poor family to become one of China's richest men, founding the Beijing-based Tomorrow Group which describes itself as one of the first companies to deal with equities investments domestically.

He has said he takes inspiration from US business magnate Warren Buffet.

"He trusted his management, which is my ideal style," Xiao said of Buffet in a 2013 interview with China-based website "21st Century Business Herald", published on China's Sina news portal.

"But given our country's environment, we are still a long way from realising this process."

There is speculation Xiao has fallen foul of China's high-profile anti-corruption drive, which some critics say has been used to target President Xi Jinping's political opponents.

Overseas Chinese-language news site Bowen Press reported Xiao could also have been connected to an "anti-Xi coalition".

China's People's Daily describes Xiao as coming from a "peasant family" in the northern mainland Chinese province of Shandong, developing into a child prodigy and attending Peking University at 15 to study law.

According to the Hurun Report, which ranks China's wealthy, Xiao is now worth almost $6 billion and oversees an empire reported to cover a range of areas, including financial institutions, insurance and property.

He is said to have business connections with China's political elite but in 2014 denied a report in the New York Times that he had earned establishment backing after authorities cracked down on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

During that time he was head of Peking University's official student union and the Times reported he had sided with administrators and tried to defuse the rallies.

A response to the article at the time from Xiao's spokeswoman said his business was built "from scratch" and its success was due to hard work.

During the Tiananmen protests Xiao had tried to ensure students' activities were lawful "to avoid tragedy", she said.

The spokeswoman also denied Tomorrow Group had any links to a deal in which the Times said a company Xiao had co-founded had paid $2.4 million to buy shares in an investment firm held by the sister and brother-in-law of President Xi.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post has reported that Xiao has mainly lived outside China since 2007, after financial irregularities were discovered during the listing process of a company part-owned by Tomorrow Group.

He is said to have been staying long-term at Hong Kong's harbour-front Four Seasons hotel, which has become a favourite haven for Chinese tycoons who have left the mainland, according to some reports.