Mergers & Acquisitions

Guosheng puts CEFC under state ward as crackdown intensifies on freewheeling private businesses

Wu Qing, a Shanghai vice mayor and former stock exchange chairman, is overseeing the coordination between Guosheng and CEFC, two sources said

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 11:46pm

China’s government, fresh on the heels of putting insurer Anbang Group under state ward, is seizing control of the management of the country’s largest non-state oil conglomerate, as a crackdown intensifies on private entrepreneurs and their freewheeling financing.

Shanghai Guosheng Group, a portfolio and investment agency controlled by the Shanghai municipal government, has taken over the management and daily operations of CEFC China Energy, the Shanghai-based oil and gas conglomerate founded by entrepreneur Ye Jianming, since last week, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Wu Qing, a vice mayor in the Shanghai government and a former chairman of the city’s stock exchange, is overseeing the coordination between Guosheng and CEFC, two other financial industry sources said separately, declining to be named.

Wu, 53, was made one of the city’s eight vice mayors during the annual session of the Shanghai People’s Congress starting on January 23, with responsibility overseeing investments, commerce, industries and information technology.

Appointed chairman of the Shanghai Stock Exchange in May 2016, Wu was credited with a strong and efficient oversight of the market during his tenure at the Shanghai bourse. He could not be reached for comment.

Guosheng’s seizure of CEFC followed the detention of the conglomerate’s founder Ye for undisclosed investigations just before the start of the Lunar New Year celebrations on February 16, four sources told the South China Morning Post yesterday. Shares in two of the three companies linked to CEFC fell in Shenzhen and Singapore, even after the company said on its website that its operations are proceeding “normally.”

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China’s government, concerned about the scale of leveraged buyouts and outsize overseas acquisitions by heavily indebted private enterprises, had been cracking down hard since April last year on companies including Anbang, Dalian Wanda Group, Fosun Group and the HNA Group. The Chinese insurance regulator last week took over Anbang’s operations, holding it in state ward for at least a year although keeping the company’s shareholding as a private enterprise. Wu Xiaohui, the Anbang chairman under whom the insurer became one of China’s biggest asset buyers, was removed from his post for prosecution for unspecified “economic crimes.”

In Shanghai, Guosheng’s officials declined to comment.

CEFC, which has lavished as much as US$4.9 billion since July 2015 on acquisitions from Chad to Romania, appears to be the latest target in the Chinese government’s cross hairs.

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Founded by Ye in 2002 when he was in his mid-twenties, CEFC had grown into a conglomerate with 263 billion yuan (US$41 billion) in revenue by 2015, before he even turned 40. From there, he began a series of acquisitions around the world, from finance and media businesses in the Czech Republic, to a bank in Georgia, to oil and gas assets in Chad and the United Arab Emirates.

CEFC’s signature purchase would be its September 2017 acquisition of a 14.2 per cent stake in Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft for US$9.1 billion, making the Chinese company the third-largest shareholder in the world’s biggest listed oil producer.

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Most of CEFC’s acquisitions were funded by China’s state banks, and in particular the China Development Bank. The Beijing-based state lender, established with the charter of financing projects in line with China’s state policies, provided CEFC with as much as 32.3 billion yuan of loans, or 87.5 of total borrowings, according to the September 2016 bond prospectus of the group’s principal subsidiary CEFC Shanghai International Group.

Ye may also have been caught up in the ongoing investigation of Hong Kong’s former Home Secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping, who heads a think tank that’s fully funded by CEFC. Ho was arrested on November 21 in New York on charges of routing bribes for African government officials through US financial institutions.

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CEFC neither has “the commercial interests involved in the relevant [media] reports” in relation to Ho’s arrest, nor has it authorised Ho or any other individuals to conduct “such commercial activities,” the Chinese company said in a November 21 statement.

Ho and Senegal’s former foreign minister Cheikh Gadio operated “an international corruption scheme that spanned the globe” since 2014, according to a November 20 statement by the US Department of Justice.

The two men allegedly offered a US$2 million bribe to Chad’s President Idriss Deby in exchange for “valuable oil rights,” and another US$500,000 to Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa.

With additional reporting by Eric Ng in Hong Kong, Daniel Ren in Shanghai.