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Wu Xiaohui, the latest billionaire victim of Beijing’s anti-graft campaign

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Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Wu Xiaohui, chairman and chief executive of Anbang Insurance Group, is reportedly the latest tycoon to be detained as part of the anti-graft drive against collusion between China’s financial sector and political elites.

After some media reported on Tuesday that Mr Wu was in custody due to an ongoing investigation, Anbang, one of China’s leading foreign investors, issued a press release saying that he could not perform his duties “for personal reasons”.

Wu is the latest figure under investigation in a financial industry crackdown which began after a stock market rout in the summer of 2015 that wiped trillions of yuan from the portfolios of small investors – costing Beijing hundreds of billions of yuan in a bailout.

The investigation that led to Wu’s “disappearance” is part of an extensive operation seeking to stem collusion among senior regulators, family members of the ruling elite and tycoons.

More than 40 top financial regulatory officials and executives have come under investigation, including several senior officials from the banking, insurance and securities regulators, under President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“Senior executives in China’s financial sector usually have powerful [political] backers. The anti-graft campaign in this sector is not only about corruption – it also aims to reduce interference by these backers,” said Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of Peking University’s Clean Government Centre.

“[The authorities] need to ensure stability ahead of the 19th National Congress. Tackling the Anbang case could pave the way for this type of work after the congress,” Zhuang said.

“There will be’” he added, “a power reshuffle after the congress, which will provide better conditions for the financial sector’s anti-graft campaign.”

In China, Wu Xiaohui is known for his ties with the country’s most powerful families. His wife is the granddaughter of the country’s late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping.

Anbang is also partly owned by Chen Xiaolu, a son of Chen Yi, a founding father of the People’s Republic.

The company morphed from a no-name property insurer into one of the biggest players in the country’s insurance market, with a 5.3 per cent share of the mainland’s total insurance premiums last year.

For many analysts, Wu’s rapid rise and dramatic fall are a product of the murky intersection of business and politics.

Like Xiao Jianhua, another tycoon taken away this year to help with investigations on the mainland, Wu is a member of the nouveaux riches who amassed huge wealth by taking advantage of ties with those in power.

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