Zhou Yongkang

Zhou Yongkang's son made fortune through father's connections, not business acumen

Sources who know him say Zhou Bin made his fortune despite a lack of business acumen

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 3:59pm

The photo in the corporate records of a Beijing energy investment firm shows Zhou Bin looking solemn and not unlike his father, former security tsar Zhou Yongkang.

That family name was a boon to the younger Zhou, say several people who had close contact with him. They paint a picture of a man who accumulated significant wealth despite a lack of business acumen.

Zhou and his Chinese-American wife, Huang Wan, were detained in early December, a few days before Zhou Yongkang is believed to have been held.

The details of how Zhou Bin built his business empire within a relatively short time are not known. But two sources told the South China Morning Post that Zhou had poor business skills and his success was mainly due to his father's connections.

"Zhou Bin was less likely to be assertive and didn't know much about doing business," said one person who spent time with Zhou Bin, 42, and his wife in the early 2000s. He felt he could do everything, but the reality was quite different, the source said.

Zhou Bin was less ... assertive and didn't know much about doing business
Source who knew Zhou

One of Zhou Bin's main businesses is Zhongxu Sunshine Energy Technology, which sells oil equipment to firms connected to the nation's biggest oil company, the China National Petroleum Corporation.

Zhongxu is one of several firms, covering oil, hydropower, real estate and film making, controlled by Zhou Bin's family members or associates, according to corporate and regulatory records.

His name, together with that of his wife and family associates, appears on corporate documents as shareholders or board members of several companies registered in Beijing, Sichuan and Shaanxi .

Zhou Bin enrolled in the University of Texas at Dallas in the United States in 1994 and graduated with a degree in international management studies, the university's registration office confirmed.

He is believed to have returned to China in the early 2000s, around the time his father was elevated to Beijing's ruling elite, first as public security minister in 2002 and then five years later as domestic security chief and a member of the Communist Party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee.

Zhou Bin would pursue a business idea only after his wife, described as a talkative woman, came up with it, one of the sources said.

A typical example came in 2005, when Huang showed an interest in film and television production, the source said.

A production company was founded under the name of Zhan Minli , Huang's mother, and it went on to produce several television dramas and films, including one that listed Huang as "chief planner".

"Zhou Bin wanted to be involved in the business only because Huang had a great passion for art, but not for money," the person said.

Zhou Bin also had business dealings with Liu Han , a Sichuan tycoon sentenced to death in May for murder, running casinos and illegally selling firearms, according to another person who knew him.

Zhou Bin sold a tourism company to Liu for 12 million yuan (HK$15 million) even though it was said to be worth less than half of the amount. Liu went ahead with the sale because he wanted to "maintain a relationship with Zhou Bin", according to the source.

"Zhou Bin's investment in the tourism company proved to be a failure and he made a profit from Liu only because his father is Zhou Yongkang," the source said.

But Liu viewed Zhou Bin as a political connection and not a business partner, the person added.

Zhou Bin could also be generous. In 2001, he became a donor to the University of Texas's Stephen Guisinger Memorial Scholarship, which helps overseas students gain postgraduate degrees.

One well-connected Chinese community leader in Houston said Zhou Bin kept a very low profile while he was living in the city with his wife.

But she met the man a few times at gatherings, mostly of Chinese who worked in Houston's oil industry. Zhou Bin volunteered to pay for such gatherings, she said, and put up a few thousand US dollars for them.

Additional reporting by Keira Lu Huang