Asia-Pacific News

Top China investor, foreigners snared in Beijing’s crackdown

Haze Fan | Special to CNBC | and Leslie Shaffer
China cracks the whip to tame market rigging

China's stock markets may have stabilized after a months-long rout, but authorities appear to still be looking for perpetrators, with reports of an arrest and an international manhunt emerging over the weekend.

In what may be the highest profile arrest so far, Xu Xiang, the manager of the Zexi Investment, one of China's largest private money managers, was detained by police Sunday, according to state-owned Xinhua news agency. The fund's website is inaccessible and appears to be crippled.

Police have taken control of Zexi's offices in Shanghai and Beijing, taking away and examining documents and computers as well as interviewing employees, the report said. Xu, who has been transferred to Beijing, is being investigated on charges of suspected insider trading, the Ministry of Public Security said, according to a report from Xinhua.

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The 37-year-old Xu, revered as a legendary investor in China, managed over 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion), a runaway success story after he reportedly dropped out of school following graduation from high school, skipping university entrance examinations in 1993 to start investing in Chinese stocks with a few thousand dollars from his parents.

Some of Zexi's products enjoyed returns of around 250 percent, according to data on Chinese funds. Two of its star products, funds No.3 and No.1, have taken the top two slots on the Chinese performance rankings. Since news of the arrest, five of the stocks Zexi invested in tumbled by their daily limit at market open Monday.

At least two mainland-listed stocks — Ningbo Kangqiang Electronics and Deluxe Family — that were bought by Zexi Investments fell by their daily 10 percent limit after news of the arrest, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Xu's funds reportedly profited handsomely from China markets' recent crash.

Amid a multi-month market meltdown, the benchmark Shanghai Composite dropped around 40 percent, falling below 4,000 points in July. That sent both domestic and foreign investors rushing for the exit, and sparked jitters in global markets. The index is currently trading around 3361.

In the wake of the crash, China's regulators took a series of dramatic measures to boost the stock market, including large-scale share purchases, which had the unintended effect of denting confidence in the government and spurring criticism that the incident was badly mishandled.

Authorities have also intensified a market probe on alleged market manipulation, issuing penalties to stock trading platforms, as well as netting a senior official at the securities regulator, journalists and social media users.

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In addition to the arrest of Xu, state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that Shanghai police are targeting two foreign nationals for allegedly manipulating the Chinese futures market to the tune of 2 billion yuan ($315 million) of illicit gains.

Yishidun International Trade Co., registered in China and controlled by Georgy Zarya and Anton Murashov allegedly used self-designed computerized trading software to manipulate the market, Xinhua reported.

Xinhua said the two foreign nationals set up companies in Hong Kong and hired Chinese nationals to open 31 futures trading accounts. They then remotely planted high-frequency programmed trading software designed by Anton and his foreign tech team into the server in the China Financial Futures Exchange, the report said.

Chinese state media also tied the crime to China market rout over the mid-year period.

The two suspects remain at large and Xinhua said the Chinese police would work with foreign counterparts to hunt down the duo.

- See Kit Tang contributed to this article.