Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 7:33am

The curious case of the Gu Kailai body double?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

The curious case of the Gu Kailai body double?

The trial of Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood may be over but its reverberations continue. Doubts have been expressed over the validity of Gu's reported confession and other details of the trial. One of the more surprising twists is a suggestion in the Financial Times that the defendant in television footage of the trial was not Gu but a body double. The newspaper reported: "Two security experts familiar with facial recognition software said the person shown in state television footage of the courtroom was not Ms Gu."

Chinese netizens have also been buzzing over the possible use of a body double at the trial, which is apparently not unheard of in the motherland. Business Insider found a mention of the controversy on Facebook with the message: "Gu Kailai's impostor is a woman around 46 years old from Langfang [a city in Hebei province] named Zhao Tianyun." The words "Gu Kailai" and "body double" have been blocked from the mainland's internet, such is their sensitivity. Clearly the woman shown in the television footage is plumper than earlier pictures of Gu, whereas you might expect a period in jail and the accompanying stress would result in weight loss rather than a gain. There are definitely similarities in the nose and mouth, but who are we to decide on such high-level matters? If Gu wasn't in court, then that raises questions as to her whereabouts and if she's still alive. On the other hand maybe the prison congee was just too good.

Headhunters circle bank

We hear that headhunters are circling Standard Chartered, which was wounded recently by New York State regulator Bernard Lawsky's assertions that it was a "rogue bank" and laundered Iran's oil money. The bank rejects the charges, though it has paid a whopping US$340 million to settle the issue.

The story the headhunters are peddling is that this is just the beginning of the story. The bank is being investigated by other regulatory agencies in the US and it may end up having to pay out in excess of US$1 billion.

In addition, it is being sued by the survivors and the families of 241 servicemen killed in the 1983 bombing of a US marine barracks in Beirut. The suit alleges the bank helped Iran hide 60,000 financial transactions from US regulators, which could have been seized and added to the US$2.7 billion awarded to them in a 2007 court ruling. Other groups could also sue.

The headhunters say if Standard Chartered does end up facing big fines, it will be forced to start laying off staff. So better to jump ship now rather than get caught up with the rush for jobs later, should the sacking materialise.

The interest in StanChart staff, they say, is not so much in senior executives but in the middle management level - those involved with managing products and relationships. This will be an interesting test of the bank's esprit de corps.

Titan twist

There's been an ironic twist to the long-running saga of troubled Titan Petrochemicals. Titan operates onshore and offshore oil storage facilities and other oil-related management services, principally in China and elsewhere in Asia. The company got into financial difficulties following the global financial crisis and was subsequently rescued by United States private equity firm Warburg Pincus. However, to further lighten its debt load and raise funds for debt repayment and construction of its onshore storage infrastructure, Titan struck a deal in December 2010 to sell its shipyard in Quanzhou, Fujian province, for HK$1.8 billion.

But the buyer, Grand China Logistics, part of the HNA Group, failed to complete the deal after making a provisional payment of HK$913 million and is seeking a court order in Shanghai to recover the HK$913 million and cancel the deal. Its failure to complete the deal resulted in Titan defaulting in March this year on its repayment obligation on its restructured debt. As a result Warburg Pincus filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Bermuda seeking the winding up of the company and the appointment of a liquidator. The ironic twist of which we spoke earlier is that Grand China Logistics, whose action triggered Titan's default, filed a notice last week supporting the petition, which must have Titan's management seething.

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