An Indian-American dealmaker for HNA Group, who recently held a big stake in the Chinese conglomerate, said he kept the shares for a decade as an "accommodation" to the company and received no compensation for doing so.
HNA shook up its ownership structure in July by transferring a near 30 percent stake, comprising shares formerly held by the dealmaker, Bharat Bhise, and a Chinese man identified as Guan Jun, to a newly-formed charity in New York.
Bhise said HNA's senior executives asked him to hold the stock ahead of forming the charity. The reason was that he is not a Chinese citizen and would not need Beijing's approval to hold shares outside of China, he said in his first interview since HNA announced the shareholding shakeup.
"I've been put in the press as some sort of mysterious person," Bhise, 63, said at his office in Hong Kong on Friday. "They were never my shares. I was holding them in trust."
Bhise, who managed George Soros's 1995 investment in Hainan Airlines, HNA's flagship asset, and sat on the aviation company's board until 2000, emerged in the last decade as a top dealmaker for HNA.
Bhise, as chairman of Bravia Capital, a Hong Kong-based boutique investment firm, also co-invested with HNA in a series of offshore investments, including in SeaCo, a marine container company, MyCargo Airlines and Africa World Airlines.
Headquartered in the southern Chinese island of Hainan, the privately-owned HNA has fielded many questions about its shareholding structure this year after Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese billionaire, alleged that "officials in China's Communist Party and their relatives were undisclosed shareholders" in the group.
He also alleged that HNA had allowed Chinese government officials and their relatives to use its aircraft "for purely personal reasons."