President of China Railway Group commits suicide - reports

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 10:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 4:45pm

Bai Zhongren, the president of China Railway Group, a state-owned engineering giant behind many of the country's largest railway projects, jumped to his death over the weekend, Chinese media reported on Monday.

China Railway Group, which is listed on both the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges, said in a short statement on Sunday that Bai died of "an accident", but did not give any details surrounding his death.

The operation of the company remains normal and its chairman will assume the responsibilities of the president until a new appointment to replace Bai, according to the statement.

The 53-year-old executive jumped to his death after suffering from depression in recent years, reported China Business News, a Shanghai-based business newspaper, citing Bai's family members.

Economic Information, a newspaper published by the official Xinhua News Agency, quoted a colleague as saying that part of the cause of Bai's depression might be the heavy debts that his company has run up. Wang Mengshu, one of the country's top railway engineers, said that Bai had been under intense pressure as some branches of the group ran into problems paying their workers' wages at the end of last year.

By the end of October, 2013, China Railways Group had total assets worth 626.5 billion yuan, and total outstanding debts of 531.9 billion yuan, with a debt-to-asset ratio of almost 85 per cent, according to the company's Q3 filings.

Bai’s suicide came as Chinese courts are about to hand down verdicts for Zhang Shuguang, a former deputy chief engineer of the now-defunct Ministry and of Railways, and Ding Shumiao, a businesswoman with close tie with disgraced former railway minister Liu Zhijun.

Zhang was charged in September in 2013 for taking in 47 million yuan in bribes and Ding went on trial late that month for bribery linked to railway projects worth more than 185 billion yuan.

China’s former railway minister, Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence in July 2013 for abuse of power and taking bribes as the Communist Party scrambled to rein in rampant corruption within the railway industry during the debt-fueled high-speed rail construction boom in the last decade.

Bai is among several senior railway officials and executives who have committed suicide since corruption scandals implicating the senior railway officials began to come to light three years ago. However, there have been no direct links between China Railway Group and the corruption cases.