Bo-linked tycoon spirals from grace
One of the mainland's youngest billionaires seems to have plunged from favour, after party authorities reportedly started investigating him in mid-March.
Rumours are rife about 41-year-old Dalian Shide chairman Xu Ming, an associate of former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, who is believed to have helped Xu amass his fortune.
Internet users and analysts began speculating after Xu failed to appear as scheduled in Hainan this week at the Boao Forum for Asia - an annual meeting of leaders from business, government and academia.
In 2008, Xu was named the mainland's 61st wealthiest person, with personal assets totalling around 8 billion yuan (HK$9.8 billion).
Shide is a conglomerate with interests ranging from home appliances and finance to building materials and chemicals.
Xu was considered one of Bo's closest associates, becoming wealthy while Bo held senior posts in Dalian and then Liaoning from the late 1980s to 2004.
Born in Dalian's Zhuanghe county, Xu worked for the county's foreign trade bureau after graduating from the Shenyang Aerospace University in 1990.
He reportedly exploited a policy loophole in 1992 to export cooked shrimp and earn his first fortune. When asked in 1996 by Beijing-based Global Entrepreneur magazine about his rapid rise, Xu said: 'The trick is to jump at the chances you come across at different stages of your life.'
He said opportunities varied from year to year.
'If I had graduated a year later, I would have undoubtedly failed to grab the opportunity created after Deng Xiaoping's benchmark speech during his southern tour [in 1992], and it would have swiftly flown away,' the magazine quoted him as saying.
Then, in 1999, Xu poured roughly 5 per cent of his assets into establishing the Dalian Shide Football Club.
Bo was then mayor of the city, and their ties strengthened as Xu's club won title after title. Bo would even show up at some club celebrations for major wins.
On October 1, 2000, Bo attended a club gathering to congratulate it on winning the league championship - the fifth title in seven years for a Dalian-based team.
Bo was quoted as saying club's turnaround from near the bottom to first was a clear indication 'that the Shide Corporation and Xu Ming had made no small contribution' to the success.
And, as a further sign of the bond between Xu and Bo, Xu delivered a celebratory speech after his club hoisted the league title for the third straight year in 2003, saying, 'I can by no means forget the care and attention given to the club by leaders at different levels when I look back on the three years we went through. Every time the team comes across decisive moments, Governor Bo certainly gives us support.'
The success of the Dalian side not only made Xu a household name nationwide, it also helped him expand his business from soccer to finance by the end of 2005.
On the mainland, the huge investment needed to run a soccer clubcan pay dividends elsewhere for an entrepreneurial owner if the team can win and associate that success with the city, which in turn can be regarded as an achievement by local leaders.
But Xu, who admitted he wasn't a fan of soccer, started to invest less in the team in 2004 - the year Bo moved from being governor of Liaoning to being minister of commerce.
Last month, speculation was rife that Xu was taken away on March 15 and put under investigation by the party's disciplinary watchdog for suspected corruption - the day it was formally announced that Bo had been dismissed as Chongqing party secretary.
The rumours gained momentum when Xu failed to appear on Sunday at the Boao forum.
The profit Xu Ming reportedly made per tonne of cooked shrimp in the early 1990s