Famed Chinese dealmaker goes missing in latest executive disappearance

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HONG KONG – Chinese dealmaker Bao Fan, founder of investment bank China Renaissance Holdings, has gone missing in the latest disappearance of a top business executive, unnerving investors and sending the bank’s stock down as much as 50 per cent on Friday.

The mainland China-based boutique bank said in an exchange filing late on Thursday that the company had been unable to contact Mr Bao.

China Renaissance’s board was not aware of any information that indicated Mr Bao’s “unavailability is or might be related to the business and/or operations” of the group, which, it said, was continuing normally.

The dealmaker’s disappearance is the latest in a series of cases of high-profile Chinese executives going missing with little explanation amid a sweeping anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, though the reasons for Mr Bao’s disappearance are unclear.

In 2015 alone, at least five executives became unreachable without prior notice to their companies, including Fosun Group chairman Guo Guangchang, who Fosun later said was assisting with investigations regarding a personal matter.

China’s ruling Communist Party in 2021 turned its sights on the country’s vast financial sector, kicking off a new round of a years-long campaign to uncover corruption and illegal dealings.

The disappearance of Mr Bao, also the company’s controlling shareholder, chairman and chief executive, drove China Renaissance’s Hong Kong-listed stock to a record low of HK$5 in early trade, wiping off HK$2.8 billion (S$477 million) in market value.

The stock regained some ground later in the day to end down 28 per cent as the Hong Kong market fell 1.3 per cent.

Nearly 30 million shares of the boutique investment bank changed hands on Friday, the highest on record.

Mr Bao, who previously worked at Credit Suisse Group and Morgan Stanley, has been hailed as one of China’s best-connected bankers.

He was involved in major technology mergers including the tie-up of ride-hailing firms Didi and Kuaidi, food delivery giants Meituan and Dianping, and travel platforms Ctrip and Qunar.

Mr Dickie Wong, executive director of research at Kingston Securities, said: “If a listed company voluntarily discloses that a senior manager or a major shareholder cannot be contacted, it’s truly unusual, as the person might have been out of reach for some time.”

Investors’ worst nightmare is that a company’s ability to continue operations is impaired, so a stock sell-off is not surprising given the uncertainty, he added.

Asked during a daily news conference on Friday whether the banker had been detained, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he was not aware of the situation.

Deals adviser

At the helm of China Renaissance, Mr Bao has taken an increasingly active role in the group’s private equity business in recent years, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

They declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

A China Renaissance spokesman referred Reuters’ request for comment on Friday to the investment bank’s public filing.

China Renaissance is currently ranked ninth on China’s equity capital markets league table for 2023, according to Refinitiv, after it advised on Jiangsu Sanfame Polyester Material’s US$363 million (S$485 million) convertible bond in January.

The firm earned US$20.6 million in Chinese-related investment banking fees in 2022, down from US$43.13 million a year earlier, data showed.

Mr Bao started China Renaissance in 2005 as a two-person team, seeking to match capital-hungry start-ups with venture capitalists and private equity investors.

Since then, it expanded into services including underwriting, sales and trading.

The investment bank made its market debut in Hong Kong in 2018 after raising US$346 million.

China Renaissance has acted as adviser for some of China’s biggest tech initial public offerings, including those of JD.Com and Kuaishou Technology as well as Didi’s New York listing in 2021.

Didi ran afoul of Chinese regulators when it pressed ahead with the United States stock listing against the regulators’ will, sources previously told Reuters.

China Renaissance is also an active investor in the technology sector.

In 2019, it raised more than 6.5 billion yuan (S$1.3 billion) in a renminbi-denominated fund.

Mr Bao’s disappearance comes days after property developer Seazen Group said it was unable to contact or reach its vice-chairman. REUTERS

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