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China economy

China’s ex-insurance chief snared in Xi Jinping’s war on corruption charged with taking ‘huge bribes’

Xiang Junbo, ex-head of now defunct China Insurance Regulatory Commission, charged with abuse of power for financial gain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 6:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 6:51pm

The former head of China’s insurance watchdog, and one of the highest profile targets in President Xi Jinping’s campaign to tackle corruption in the financial industry, has been charged with corruption, state media reported on Monday.

Xiang Junbo, who had been under investigation since last year, was charged by the Changzhou People’s Procuratorate in eastern China’s Jiangsu province with using his position to further the illegal interests of others in return for “huge” bribes, People’s Daily reported.

The report did not put any values on the alleged bribes, or name any of the individuals or companies Xiang is accused of helping.

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A former deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China and ex-chairman of Agricultural Bank of China, Xiang took over as head of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) in 2011. The agency no longer exists as an autonomous entity after being merged with the banking watchdog earlier this month.

In his six years in charge, the value of China’s insurance industry almost tripled, and several firms grew exponentially. Much of that expansion came after insurers were granted new permissions not only to raise short-term funds from investors via universal insurance policies, but also to buy equity stakes in listed companies and property projects, turning several of them into aggressive investors.

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One of the most notable examples was Anbang Insurance Group, which was established in 2011 following a corporate restructuring, and grew to become a financial behemoth with about 2 trillion yuan (US$318.74 billion) in assets. Much of its growth stemmed from it being granted licences by the regulator to sell universal insurance policies.

Anbang’s former chairman, Wu Xiaohui, went on trial in Shanghai last month charged with illegal fundraising, for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. The company, which was known for its aggressive acquisition of overseas assets, was taken under government control in February.

Xiang, 61 and a veteran of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war, was put under investigation by the Communist Party’s discipline agency in April last year and was expelled from the party in September after being found guilty of “committing serious violations of political discipline and rules” and “pursuing personal interests”, according to an official statement released at the time.

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He is the highest ranking cadre from the financial sector to be netted in China’s wide-sweeping anti-corruption campaign led by former discipline tsar, now vice-president, Wang Qishan.

The People’s Daily report did not say when Xiang would stand trial or what sentence he might face. The South China Morning Post was unable to reach him or his legal representative for comment.