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HNA Group, Secretive Chinese Conglomerate, Takes Top Stake in Deutsche Bank

Ralph Orlowski | Bloomberg via Getty Images

The nomination of a prospective adviser to President Trump was torpedoed after its business ties with the aide came to light. It owns stakes in Hilton Worldwide Holdings and in the technology distributor Ingram Micro. And, as of Wednesday, it is the biggest shareholder in Deutsche Bank.

HNA Group, a secretive Chinese conglomerate with ties to the Communist Party in Beijing, has emerged as a major global deal maker.

But what, exactly, is HNA Group? Here is a rundown.

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How Did HNA Get Started?

The company was founded in China in 1993 as Hainan Airlines, in the southern island province of Hainan, with help from the local provincial government.

It has since expanded considerably into several industries, and now has more than $90 billion in assets.

What Has It Invested In?

HNA has been on an acquisition streak in recent years, broadening beyond airlines to invest in tourism, logistics and financial services.

Since the beginning of 2016, it has struck deals to acquire Ingram Micro; a quarter of Hilton Worldwide Holdings, the hotel company; Carlson Hotels, owner of the Radisson and Country Inns & Suites chains; Gategroup, a Swiss airline catering business; and about a quarter of the American investment arm of the British-South African insurer Old Mutual.

Does It Have Ties to the Chinese State?

HNA is not a state-owned enterprise in the way that China's banks, airlines, telecommunication companies and other pillars of the economy are. But its political pedigree runs deep.

For more than a decade, HNA's chairman, Chen Feng, has been a member of the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, a group of more than 2,000 that meets every five years to help determine party leadership.

HNA's ownership is murky — one major shareholder lists his address as a shabby apartment building in Beijing.

The company has benefited from sizable loans from state-backed lenders and counts the son of a former top political figure as a business partner: In 2008, according to Chinese corporate records, it formed a venture with a firm that was part of a group led by a son of He Guoqiang, who was then the Communist Party's powerful discipline chief.

What Are Its Ambitions Beyond China?

HNA is not just politically connected in China. Its name has also come up in the political scene in the United States.

The Chinese company agreed in January to buy SkyBridge Capital, an investment firm owned by Anthony Scaramucci, a flamboyant former campaign fund-raiser for Mr. Trump who was set to be a White House liaison to business.

When Mr. Scaramucci was turned down for the liaison job, one of the issues raised was the sale of SkyBridge to HNA. Because the transaction will probably take several months, questions were raised over potential conflicts of interest.

At the time, HNA described the deal as giving it a crucial entry into the American market for its asset management business.