The vice chairman of Hong Kong-listed Seazen Group, one of China’s largest homebuilders, has gone missing, with mainland news sources reporting that the executive is cooperating with authorities on an investigation into Dalian Wanda Group, where he previously held top management positions.
Shanghai-based Seazen said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Friday that it has been unable to contact or reach Qu Dejun, who also serves as the company’s non-executive director. “As at the date of this announcement, the Company has not yet been able to ascertain the reasons thereof,” the statement added.
Citing a person with knowledge of the situation, mainland news site Caixin reported that Qu is assisting authorities in an investigation involving his career at Wanda. Another outlet, The Paper, cited a person close to Wanda as saying that Qu’s disappearance may be related to an investigation of his career there. Seazen told Caixin that Qu’s absence was for personal reasons unrelated to the company.
The news comes after Zhuhai Wanda Commercial Management Group (Wanda Commercial), the mall unit of billionaire Wang Jianlin’s property empire, filed a prospectus for a Hong Kong IPO last October, with local news reports in China last week indicating that the mall developer expects the listing to take place in the second quarter of this year.
Qu was last seen in public on 16 January when he attended a ceremony for a Seazen business partnership in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen, Caixin reported. Qu worked for Wanda for 17 years in a variety of roles, including president of Wanda Financial Group and head of Wanda Internet Technology Group, before leaving China’s biggest commercial developer in May 2019. He joined Seazen, then known as Future Land Development Holdings, as vice chairman in July of that year.
The real estate and corporate finance veteran began his career at Seazen after a holding a variety of roles at Wanda, China’s top commercial developer, which he joined in 2002. Qu’s titles included president of Wanda Financial Group from 2015 to 2015, in which role he led Wanda Group’s financial and Internet technology business.
In October 2016, Qu took the helm of the newly formed Wanda Internet Technology Group, a spinoff of various tech-related holdings which had previously been housed under Wanda’s financial division, including the company’s flailing online-to-offline shopping platform ffan.
By the start of 2018, the fledgling division was cutting jobs, with the Financial Times reporting that the group planned to slash at least 1,000 jobs during the year. Qu stated on his public social media account that “the group is readjusting in order to better develop more quickly and in a healthy manner.”
Qu served in that post until the end of 2018, at which point he was named chairman of Wanda’s commercial play centre business, Wanda Kids Palace Group, a position he held until he left the company five months later.
Qu stepped on board as vice chairman at Seazen days after the company’s then-chairman Wang Zhenhua was removed from his post, having been detained by police in Shanghai on suspicion of sexually abusing a minor in July 2019. Wang was sentenced to five years in prison for child molestation in mid-2020.
The property billionaire’s son, Wang Xiaosong, remains as chairman of Seazen after taking the reins in the immediate aftermath of his father’s arrest in 2019. Fitch Ratings withdrew its ratings for Seazen Group and its subsidiary, Seazen Holdings, last October, saying the companies had decided to stop participating in the ratings process.
Seazen reported RMB 79.8 billion ($11.6 billion) in contracted sales attributed to shareholders last year, making it China’s 17th-largest developer, according to a ranking by China Real Estate Information Corporation. The property firm says it has a presence in over 100 large and mid-sized cities in China, with more than 700 projects completed or under development.
Mall IPO Looms
If media reports that Qu’s disappearance is connected to investigation of his career at Wanda prove correct, the case could present challenges for the mall-building giant’s plans to take Wanda Commercial public on the Hong Kong stock exchange this year.
Citing unnamed sources close to the company China’s National Business Daily reported last week that Wanda’s return to the Hong Kong bourse should be completed during the second quarter of this year. Wanda officials are reported to have told investors during a 6 February road show supporting their US dollar bond sale that the IPO is slated for the second quarter.
Fitch Ratings told investors on 12 January that Wanda is expected to list in Hong Kong this year, noting that it considers RMB 38 billion in pre-IPO funds which the developer received in 2021 as debt due if the IPO does not happen this year.
Wanda Commercial’s first two applications for an IPO expired without seeing the company rejoin the bourse, which it left in 2016. The shopping centre business had reportedly passed a hearing by the stock exchange, but decided to hold off due to a downturn in Hong Kong-listed stocks, according to an analyst cited by China Business News.
Last month, Wanda Hotel Development revealed that the group’s chairman, Wang Jianlin, had pledged his entire 65 percent stake in the conglomerate’s hotel division as collateral to secure a loan from Singapore state holding firm Temasek for another subsidiary, Wanda Culture Holding.