Missing Chinese billionaire Zhou Chengjian returns to work

Zhou Chengjian, chairman of Metersbonwe Ltd.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Zhou Chengjian, chairman of Metersbonwe Ltd.

The billionaire founder of one of China’s most famous fashion brands has returned to work a week after his company said he had gone missing, the latest in a series of entrepreneurs and financiers apparently embroiled in Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign.

Metersbonwe, one of the best known brands on the Chinese high street, said in a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange on Friday that founder Zhou Chengjian, China’s 62nd richest man with a fortune of Rmb26.5bn ($4bn) last year, was back at work along with Tu Ke, board secretary.

In a statement on January 7 the company said it was unable to reach either man and that its shares were suspended while company officials investigated media reports that Mr Zhou had been detained by police. No details of the disappearance were given in Friday’s statement.

However, shares in the company will remain suspended until at least February 5, a further statement said, adding that the company planned a “major asset restructuring”.

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Mr Zhou's disappearance followed close on the heels of that of Guo Guangchang, chairman of the conglomerate Fosun, one of China's best known companies internationally because of its ownership of Club Med. Mr Guo went missing in December and was later reported by his company to be assisting authorities with an undisclosed investigation.

The detention of the two men caused jitters in the mainland private sector, which had previously been largely untouched by anti-corruption investigations targeting mostly government officials, executives of state-owned companies and financial industry executives.

Mr Guo was subsequently released and allowed to travel overseas, in an apparent sign that his freedom of movement was not restricted. Sources close to the company said at the time that he was not the target of the investigation.

Mr Zhou, a former tailor who became wealthy after founding one of China's first nationwide fashion brands, went bankrupt twice before he was 18, but repeatedly relaunched businesses until he was successful.

Metersbonwe succeeded by selling fashionable clothes more cheaply than foreign brands such as H&M and Zara and targeting college students and recent graduates.

Mr Zhou told the Financial Times last year that he ended up running the village shop in the rural village where he was raised, in eastern Zhejiang province, because he was "lazier" than other members of the family.

Mr Zhou recreated part of his village home inside the headquarters of his clothing brand in suburban Shanghai, complete with vegetable fields tilled by his elderly father.