UPDATE 2-China insurer Anbang says chairman unable to fulfill duties

(Adds background on Wu, Anbang)

June 13 (Reuters) - China's Anbang Insurance Group Co Ltd said on Tuesday its chairman was no longer able to fulfill his duties within the company for "personal reasons," days after it denied he had been barred from leaving China.

In a brief statement issued in Beijing, Anbang said Chairman Wu Xiaohui's duties would be managed by other senior executives, and that its business was operating normally. No other details were provided.

Best known overseas for its 2015 purchase of New York's landmark Waldorf Astoria hotel, Beijing-based Anbang has pursued a string of high-profile foreign acquisitions led by Wu.

After a spate of successful deal-making worth over $30 billion, Anbang ran into recent roadblocks, failing to close on a handful of investments, and facing criticism over the firm's opaque shareholding structure.

When asked if Wu was within China or if he could be reached, a spokesperson for Anbang - which manages some 1.65 trillion yuan ($242 billion) worth of assets - said the company had nothing to add.

Anbang had denied earlier this month that Wu was prevented from travel after the Financial Times newspaper reported he had been prevented from leaving the country, citing four sources who had business dealings with him.

Still, Anbang's announcement fueled speculation about Wu's well-being, at a time when Chinese business circles were already spooked by the mysterious disappearance of a China-born billionaire from Hong Kong early this year.


Established in 2004 by Wu as an automotive and property insurer, Anbang rose from near obscurity to prominence in the past few years. But the company and China's insurance sector are now fighting bad publicity and suspected scandal.

China's anti-corruption agency said in April it was investigating the head of China's insurance regulator for "suspected disciplinary violations," a phrase that usually refers to graft.

One of Anbang's units, meanwhile, was censured by China's insurance regulator in May for designing products to skirt a regulation aimed at curtailing risk. As a result, the unit of Anbang was barred from issuing new products for three months.

Outside of China, Anbang's deal-making has faltered as well. Its planned $1.6 billion takeover of U.S. annuities and life insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life collapsed in April after failing to get the required U.S. regulatory approval.

Attempts by the Chinese insurer to invest in a real estate project affiliated with U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law also came to naught this year.

Anbang became embroiled in a rare and public war of words last month with a leading Chinese business magazine about the insurer's ownership structure.

In an article published in April, the magazine had described Anbang's structure as "opaque" and said its funding was a "maze" of capital flow involving more than 100 firms. Anbang, in response, called the descriptions "malicious" and "inaccurate" and has threatened to sue.

Described by those who know him as smart and passionate, Wu, who is politically connected in China, has also cultivated relationships on Wall Street with the likes of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP despite speaking little English. (Reporting by Matthew Miller in Beijing and Koh Gui Qing in New York; editing by Bernard Orr and Tom Brown)