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4 Jul, 2018 19:15

Chinese HNA Group chairman falls to his death after posing for photo in France

Chinese HNA Group chairman falls to his death after posing for photo in France

The chairman of the embattled Chinese HNA Group, that owns big stakes in Hilton hotels and Deutsche Bank has died in France. Wang Jian suffered 15 meters fall, while posing for a photograph, the police said.

The tragedy occurred on Tuesday in the popular tourist village of Bonnieux, near Avignon in the French south-east. Wang’s death appeared to be accidental lieutenant-colonel Hubert Meriaux at the Vaucluse gendarmerie told Reuters. 

“He stood on the edge of a sharp drop to get his family to take a picture of him and fell,” Meriaux said. The businessman suffered a 15-meter fall and crashed into the rocks below, dying of his injuries, he added. Another officer told South China Morning Post that an autopsy of Wang’s body has been carried out and revealed “nothing suspicious.”

HNA Group, in which Wang held a 15 percent stake, has confirmed the death of its chairman and switched its official website to monochrome in his honor.

“Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy,” the company said in a statement.

According to a pledge signed by the 12 stakeholders, Wang’s shares will now be split between the New York and Hainan branches of the Hainan Cihang Charity Foundation, which own the majority stake in the HNA Group.

The 57-year-old businessman was seen as a driving force behind the transformation of the local Hainan Airlines into a huge conglomerate with US$230 billion in assets. Since 2015, HNA had been on a massive shopping spree, forking out around $40 billion on a 25 per cent stake in the Hilton hotel group, shares in Deutsche Bank, several golf courses and other foreign property.

However, the company’s expansion was derailed by the Chinese government’s decision to curb overseas investment by private conglomerates on order to cut financial risks. A financial report in April revealed that HNA’s debts have reached $94 billion. In recent months, the Group has been forced to get rid of its acquisitions as it parted with its 25 per cent stake in Spain’s NH Hotel Group for US$726 million and sold an office tower in Minneapolis, Minnesota for US$320 million.

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It also plans to market its stake in Brazilian airline Azul SA, worth around $324 million. Earlier this week, HNA also gave up on the idea of buying the refrigerated trucking arm of Australia’s Automotive Holdings Group due to reported cash flow problems.

In a letter internally distributed at HNA earlier this year, Wang blamed the company’s hardships on “major conspiracy” against the ruling Communist Party and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, by foreign and domestic “reactionary forces,” Reuters said.

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