Published: Thu, July 05, 2018
Markets | By Otis Pena

HNA Says Co-Chairman Wang Jian Died After Accident in France

HNA Says Co-Chairman Wang Jian Died After Accident in France

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group [HNAIRC.UL] Co-Chairman Wang Jian died during a business trip in France on July 3 in what local police said appeared to be an accidental fall from a wall while posing for a photograph. The 57-year-old "accidentally fell causing serious injury, and attempts to rescue him were ineffective", the HNA board said in a report from AFP on Wednesday.

Police said HNA Chairman Wang Jian died after falling from a wall at the village church in Bonnieux, southern France.

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. They added that their investigation so far suggested his death was an accident.

Wang was second only to Co-Chairman Chen Feng within HNA's hierarchy, and owned about 15 per cent of the conglomerate, making him one of the group's biggest shareholders, according to HNA's last update of its ownership structure.

Wang was one of the founders of HNA, which started out as a regional airline more than 20 years ago and grew into a Fortune 500 company.

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HNA, the owner of Hainan Airlines, once symbolised the appetite of Chinese companies for assets outside of China. It also has finance, logistics and technology businesses. 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.

But HNA came under pressure previous year as Beijing cracked down on the risky debt-fuelled financing that enabled its expansion.

Wang obtained an undergraduate degree in Aviation Management from Civil Aviation University of China in 1983, and a master's degree in business administration from Maastricht School of Management in 1995, according to HNA. HNA's latest annual report showed the group had more than US$90 billion in debt. In November, HNA sold China's most expensive short-term dollar bond, and a month later China Citic Bank Corp. said a unit of the group had repayment difficulties.

The firm's US$230 billion in assets includes a diverse global empire of businesses operating in aviation, tourism, and finance, and includes Hilton hotels and other marquee companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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