Tea Leaf Nation
China’s Would-Be Warren Buffett Is Missing
His social media account was emptied and he was led off for questioning, reports say.
Guo Guangchang, the 48-year-old Shanghai-based billionaire and founder and chairman of the Fosun Group, China’s most valuable private conglomerate, has gone missing. A low-resolution, undated image currently circulating on Chinese social network Weibo shows a man who looks like Guo being led away by men in plain clothes.
According to a report by Caixin, a respected economic and finance news outlet, Guo fell out of contact around noon on Dec. 10, China time. His associates last heard from him when he was in Shanghai; Guo has not been seen since, and economic and finance outlet Caijing reports that all posts on Guo’s personal Weibo account have been deleted. It’s quite possible he did so himself, at the behest of interrogators; it’s common for those questioned or detained in China to be denied the benefit of due process, and authorities often work hard to deny the accused access to social media platforms that would allow them to bypass strict state information controls and appeal directly to the public.
While it’s unclear whether Guo was taken away by national or local authorities, it’s possible that he has become ensnared in some way in his country’s wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign, which began in earnest in early 2013 under President Xi Jinping. The crackdown has felled a number of high officials, including former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, as well as executives at state-owned enterprises. In August, a Shanghai court stated that Guo had years earlier improperly helped Wang Zongnan, then working at a state-owned company, purchase for Wang’s parents two Fosun-developed villas at improper discounts. That statement came in connection to Wang’s sentencing; Guo was not a defendant in that case.
But it has fueled speculation about just where Guo stands with authorities who have continued Xi’s corruption crackdown in earnest. “It’s not a complete surprise,” Bill Bishop, who edits the influential China-focused newsletter Sinocism, told Foreign Policy. “You don’t get to be near the top of the rich list in China, especially when your base of operations is Shanghai, without knowing a lot of things. Is it about this [Wang Zongnan] case, which on its face looks relatively small, or [is Guo] a guy who can be squeezed to give up information about people higher up the food chain?”
Guo is exceedingly well-connected; he is a member of the Communist Party’s National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a toothless but well-heeled advisory body, and his Rolodex is a who’s who of China’s business and finance community. That community has been under particular scrutiny in the wake of a deep Chinese stock market swoon that authorities have sought to blame on individual bad actors. It is not yet clear if Guo is now himself a suspect or was detained for questioning in connection with others.
A spokesperson for Fosun did not immediately reply to an FP request for comment. But according to a news report by web outlet Tencent, on the evening of Dec. 10 Fosun’s CEO, Liang Xinjun, responded to an investor’s question about Guo by saying, “It’s fine. Rest assured.” It was unclear whether Liang was referring to the eventual outcome of any investigation or whether or not Guo had been taken into custody.
Guo’s whereabouts and fate are relevant to many stakeholders worldwide; according to its 2015 Interim Report, Fosun holds stakes in companies as diverse as a Greek-based fashion retailer, a U.S.-based fashion company, and a Japan-based real estate management company. In October 2013, Fosun purchased from JPMorgan Chase the building formerly known as One Chase Manhattan Plaza, a skyscraper in lower Manhattan, for more than $700 million.
Guo is frequently compared to famed U.S. investor Warren Buffett in both English- and Chinese-language press; in a 2014 interview, Guo told Bloomberg that Fosun favored a “Buffett model” of investing in cash-rich insurance companies. But online, while Chinese commenters certainly have seemed intrigued by what will befall Guo, there has been a bloodlessness to the speculation. “Who is going to be sympathetic to another fallen billionaire?” Bishop asked. “You could arrest all of the real estate moguls and nobody would shed a tear in China.”
Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images
Correction, Dec. 10, 2015: An earlier version of this article misspelled the famed U.S. investor’s surname. It is Buffett, not Buffet.
Correction, Dec. 11, 2015: Guo was a member of the 10th and 11th sessions of the National People’s Congress; an earlier version of this article said that Guo was a member of the current National People’s Congress.