CORRUPTION
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Ling Jihua

The rise and fall of brother of Ling Jihua, ex-aide to former president Hu Jintao

Talented golfer Ling Wancheng successfully turned his hand from journalism to business

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 December, 2014, 1:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 December, 2014, 4:43am

With his rimless glasses, dapper shirts and neat, close-cropped hair, Wang Cheng cut an athletic figure on Beijing's top golf courses.

The tanned, healthy-looking businessman was admired for his skill and sophistication and a fine swing that won him several amateur championships. Yet few would have linked the refined man with rumours in the capital that a powerful Shanxi figure named Ling was doomed.

Yet those in the loop knew that the journalist-turned-businessman Wang Cheng liked to use a pseudonym; that his real name was Ling Wancheng; that he was the youngest of four sons in a family known for their political clout; and that when in late October he was taken into custody after returning to China from the US, his future - like that of his elder brother - was bleak.

His detention means all three living Ling sons (the eldest, Ling Fangzhen, is dead) have been netted in President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive.

Elder brother Ling Zhengce, 62, former vice-chairman of the political consultative conference in the family's home province, Shanxi, had been detained in June. When the inquiry widened to include Wancheng, the youngest at 55, many saw the move as the Communist Party closing the net on a third sibling and even bigger fish - Ling Jihua, 58, ex-chief of staff to former president, Hu Jintao. Yet Ling Wancheng's downfall came as a surprise to many as, unlike his two brothers, he was not a politician. When he graduated in economics from Jilin University he started work at Outlook Weekly, a magazine covering China's politics and economy, which is supervised by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

His colleagues knew Wancheng's family name derived from Linghu, a fabled surname renowned in Chinese literature. The name made him popular at work; distant colleagues were keen to meet him in person.

Like his brothers, Wancheng knew how to climb the ladder of success. In 1995, he led a team of Xinhua staff sent to develop rural areas in Guizhou province. After this right of passage, which party cadres often need to pass for promotion, Wancheng became the deputy secretary of the Youth League of Xinhua and the deputy chief of staff of Xinhua.

In 2003, aged 44, he went into business, setting up a news website called Jiuzhou Online, later renamed Tiantian Online with the domain 116.com.cn, Caixin reported. That was the year he adopted the name Wang Cheng.

He co-founded the Beijing Huijin Lifang Investment Management Centre in 2008, and became chief executive of a subsidiary called Huijin Lifang Capital, which became the centre's main investment body; Huijin Lifang made Wancheng a billionaire.

Four of the company's eight limited partners were from Wancheng's home province, Shanxi, including a company called Beijing Jieweiseng Technology, founded only months before Huijin Lifang with 100,000 yuan.

The company's shares were held by a mathematics teacher from Shanxi, Jia Yunlong; the teacher has since admitted to Caixin that he was holding the shares for his close friend Jia Yueting, chief executive of the entertainment website LeTV.

LeTV profited from that link in 2008, when despite its small size, it received more than three million yuan from Huijin Lifang in return for 6.06 per cent of equity.

LeTV had balance sheet woes that would normally have barred it from being listed. But, in 2010, Ling Wancheng helped it list on the mainland's growth enterprises market. A year later, Huijin Lifang sold most of the stock; by 2013 it was no longer listed as a stock holder. Conservative estimates put Huijin Lifang's profit at more than 300 million yuan.

From 2008 to 2010, Huijin Lifang invested in areas such as IT and internet companies. It has so far made at least 1.2 billion yuan (HK$1.5 billion), Caixin said.

When Ling Wancheng fell, others fell, too. On December 1, a senior official at China's securities regulatory body, Li Liang - who approved LeTV's listing - was detained by the central anti-corruption agency. Ling Wancheng's wife, Li Ping, a TV host from Shanxi, who worked at state broadcaster CCTV, has also been detained. His brother-in-law, Li Jun, a former LeTV deputy general manager, who received LeTV shares worth two million yuan, is also being investigated.

Jia Yueting has denied using any political connection to develop his company.