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Fosun's chairman makes surprise AGM appearance

Guo Guangchang, Chairman of Fosun International.
Jason Lee | Reuters
Guo Guangchang, Chairman of Fosun International.

Fosun International chairman Guo Guangchang attended a company meeting in Shanghai on Monday, a person at the event said, his first public appearance since a report he had gone missing last week sparked share suspension and speculation the firm was being drawn into Beijing's corruption crackdown.

Guo, a self-styled student of investor Warren Buffett, received a standing ovation from people gathered at a Shanghai hotel for Fosun's annual meeting, said the person, who declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

On Sunday, the president of Guo's investment conglomerate Fosun International said the billionaire was helping police with an investigation that mostly concerned his personal affairs.

Fosun had confirmed on Friday that Guo was assisting authorities with a probe, a day after local media said the group had lost contact with its founder.

"We trust Chairman Guo is a wise man and will actively cooperate and fulfil his duties to assist the investigation as soon as possible," company president Wang Qunbin told a conference call on Sunday.

"It is mostly about his personal affairs," said Wang, when asked whether the probe was related to the company or Guo personally. Wang said he could not provide more details as the investigation was "sensitive."

Chief executive Liang Xinjun said Guo was helping police in Shanghai and said that he was currently assisting with an investigation and not the subject of it. He did not give further details about the nature of the probe.

Reuters' calls to the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing seeking comment on the situation were not answered. A Fosun spokeswoman declined to comment on Monday.

Guo's sudden absence, and the lack of detailed information that the company has given about his status, underlines the opaqueness of China's legal system.

A string of senior executives at Chinese companies have temporarily gone missing this year amid a crackdown by Beijing on its financial sector.

CITIC Securities, China's biggest brokerage, said on Dec. 6 it was unable to contact two of its top executives following reports they had been asked by authorities to assist in an investigation.

Finances 'healthy'

Liang said Fosun was in communication with its lenders, investors and credit ratings agencies and said the company was "not in crisis", and its financial situation was "very healthy".

The CEO said Guo was able to take part in major decisions involving the company, but also said Fosun had the management structures and business strength to withstand Guo's absence, saying it did not rely on "any one executive."

Liang also highlighted the company's deep pockets, with cash and cash equivalents, alongside liquid financial assets, in excess of 60 billion yuan ($9.3 billion).

Fosun International's shares and convertible bonds, as well as shares in companies controlled by Guo, were suspended in Hong Kong and the mainland on Friday. Fosun International shares tanked when they resumed trading on Monday, falling more than 11 percent to HK$11.82 in mid-morning trade.

Born in a rural village in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, Guo studied philosophy at the elite Fudan University in Shanghai before founding his first firm in 1992 alongside classmates as an information services company with 100,000 yuan ($15,495) in capital.

Liang said the company would consider buying back stock if the share price fluctuated. He said progress on the company's current deals was "proceeding normally".

The question of Guo's whereabouts has already come to the attention of banking supervisors in Europe, where Fosun is in a battle to buy Anglo-German bank BHF Kleinwort Benson, people familiar with the regulatory process said on Friday.

Israel's Delek Group said on Sunday that representatives of Fosun would arrive in the country in the coming days to discuss its agreed deal to buy a controlling stake in Israeli insurer Phoenix Holdings.

Guo, 48, has built an empire of industrial companies, alongside a host of insurance, banking and asset management firms. He is a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a largely ceremonial advisory body to China's parliament, and has amassed a personal net worth of $5.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Earlier this year, Fosun clinched a billion-dollar takeover of the Club Med resort chain. In total, Fosun has spent more than $30 billion on foreign acquisitions and at the end of June 2015 it had total assets worth $55 billion.

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