China’s top dairy firm says CEO too ill to attend Asia’s Davos, squashes rumours of police probe
Yili Group says chairman and chief executive Pan Gang is being treated for heart condition overseas, announces arrest of six rumour-mongers
The CEO and chairman of China’s largest dairy firm, Yili Group, will miss the Boao Forum for Asia because of ill health, the company said late on Saturday, amid rumours he had been taken away for investigation.
Pan Gang was expected to take part in a panel discussion on Tuesday at the annual event, which opened on Sunday in the southern Chinese province of Hainan and will be attended by President Xi Jinping.
A company statement said that Pan, 48, suffered from a congenital heart problem known as aortic stenosis and fell ill as a result of a gruelling work schedule. After being seen by doctors in China, he was advised to travel overseas for further treatment.
Communist Party officials in Inner Mongolia, where Yili has its headquarters, and its regional capital Hohhot, had been notified of Pan’s movements and remained in contact with him, it said.
The statement said also that six people had been arrested by police in Hohhot for spreading rumours that Pan had been “taken away” by the authorities for investigation.
Two of the six were journalists Zou Guangxiang and Liu Chengkun, both of whom live in Beijing.
Zou, who used to work for the Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald, was arrested in Hohhot on March 28, two days after publishing an article on his personal blog claiming Pan had been detained on his return from the United States, from where he had been running Yili for the past six months.
Yili said that police had confirmed that on the day Zou said Pan had been arrested, the executive was still in hospital.
The New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday issued a statement calling for Zou’s immediate release and urging Chinese authorities to “stop harassing the media for doing its job”.
Liu, a former journalist with Time Weekly newspaper, was arrested last week for publishing several short works of fiction in which the central character – who bears a strong resemblance to Pan – spends months working in the US before being arrested on his return to China.
Yili said it was public knowledge that Pan had travelled overseas for medical treatment and while it did not specifically refer to the works published by Liu or Zou, said recent articles and stories had caused great damage to the company’s reputation.
The Yili statement did not identify the four other people it said had been detained, but cited Hohhot police as saying that a “large amount of criminal evidence” had been found at their homes.
It also did not specify where Pan was being treated.
In November, Pan headed a list of China’s 100 top performing CEOs compiled by the Chinese edition of Harvard Business Review.
Before the start of the Boao Forum – Asia’s answer to the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos – he was listed as one of the contributors to a panel discussion on the impact China has had on the world in the 40 years since it began its policy of reform and opening up. In the latest update to the programme, however, his name had been removed.