HNA founder and co-chairman Wang Jian died suddenly in a reported accident this week at age 57, according to an announcement today by the troubled Chinese conglomerate.
“He stood on the edge of a sharp drop to get his family to take a picture of him and fell,” Reuters quoted lieutenant-colonel Hubert Meriaux of the Vaucluse police as saying in a report published today. Wang is said to have fallen over a wall before dropping some 15 metres.
The billionaire investor owned about 15 percent of the mainland group.
Wang Falls Out of the Picture at HNA
“HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang’s family and many friends,” surviving chairman Chen Feng and CEO Adam Tan said in a statement confirming the businessman’s passing. “Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy.”
Along with Chen Feng, who also owns 15 percent of the corporate giant controlling a global portfolio of real estate, tourism, transport and technology assets, Wang had been under scrutiny for HNA’s profligate borrowing and murky ownership structure. However, French police are reported to have categorised the death as not suspicious, with Wang having died from injuries suffered after falling off a 15 meter-high cliff.
During recent months HNA has been rapidly selling off assets that it accumulated during several years of debt-fuelled acquisitions which left the company saddled with more than $100 billion in debts by the beginning of this year.
Little-Known Owner of a High-Profile Conglomerate
Wang typically stayed in the background of HNA’s deals while his partner and co-founder Chen Feng took a more public role. However, the secrecy of the company’s owners began to work against them in recent years. An investigation by the New York Times last year raised questions about the beneficial ownership of the company, after a pair of individuals claimed as owners transferred their holdings to a newly-founded charity controlled by the conglomerate’s management.
Wang Jian had also attracted attention for the unexplained role of his younger brother, Wang Wei, in representing HNA in many of its US acquisitions.