Xiao Jianhua

Mainland tycoon has history of doing deals with big wheels

Billionaire Xiao Jianhua has raised eyebrows before via business arrangements with top leaders and their children

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 11:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 9:14am

Billionaire Xiao Jianhua has long been drawn to mysterious but high-profile merger and acquisition deals, some of which involved top state leaders and their “princeling” children.

Xiao ranked 32nd along with his wife on Hurun’s China Rich List 2016, with US$5.97 billion in wealth. The 46-year-old is the founder of Tomorrow Group – a sprawling mainland holding company with business in many areas, including financial institutions, IT and energy.

Xiao’s links with top leaders have raised eyebrows among political analysts and the media.

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He admitted to The New York Times through a spokeswoman in 2014 that he had been helping Xi Jinping’s relatives dispose of their assets when the president came to power in 2013 and launched his anti-graft campaign.

However, Xiao said Xi’s family had not made a profit out of the transactions.

Before that, Xiao had first got the media’s attention in 2007, when he reportedly helped Zeng Wei, the son of former vice-president Zeng Qinghong, ­privatise a power-generating company in Shandong province.

Xiao’s spokeswoman claimed in 2014 that the deals were “legal and valid”.

In 2012, Xiao and Che Feng, the son-in-law of former central bank chief Dai Xianglong, bought Digital Domain, the Hollywood visual effects studio co-founded by director James Cameron, for US$30 million, reported a Times article in June 2014.

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Xiao’s spokeswoman acknowledged that companies Xiao had invested in were involved in the deal, but said he was not the main decision maker.

Also in 2014, Xiao’s spokeswoman claimed that he “has been living in Hong Kong for many years”.

A statement from his group’s WeChat account issued yesterday claimed that Xiao was a permanent Hong Kong resident. It also denied that he had been abducted by mainland security forces. The statement was later deleted

Xiao reportedly spent much of his time in Hong Kong in the Four Seasons Hotel, though he remained relatively low-profile.

Last April, he donated HK$10 million to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to a robotics institute named after his company, T Stone.

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Xiao was named ambassador-at-large for Antigua and Barbuda in 2015, according to a report on news portal Caribbean360.

However, it remains unclear if that country issued a diplomatic passport to Xiao, which he claimed to have in his second statement yesterday.

Despite his powerful links, ­Xiao had a humble beginning. He grew up as part of a poor rural family in Shandong.

He was admitted at 14 to Peking University and was the head of the student union when the democracy movement broke out in 1989. However, he did not join the student protests that led to the Tiananmen crackdown.

Xiao was reported to have made his initial fortune in 1999 in computer-related business in Inner Mongolia, where his wife Zhou Hongwen was raised.