China probes chief of top insurance regulator


BEIJING: China has opened an investigation into the head of its top insurance regulatory body, the anti-corruption watchdog said Sunday in an announcement that could signal problems for some of the country’s most powerful companies.

Xiang Junbo is being probed for “suspected serious violation of the Party’s code of conduct,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement on its website.

The phrase is often a euphemism for corruption.

Xiang took the top spot at the China Insurance Regulatory Commission in 2011 after heading the Agricultural Bank of China, one of the biggest state banks.

Various Chinese regulatory agencies have trained their sights on the insurance industry, complaining about companies’ use of their financial holdings to fund risky acquisitions in real estate and unlisted equities.

In February Beijing announced investigations into several major insurance companies, including Evergrande Life and Foresea Life, for alleged market manipulation.

The announcement came after the chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission singled out the industry as a home for “barbarians” and “thieves” who engaged in debt-fuelled stock market acquisitions.

The president of PICC, the country’s first non-life insurance company, is also currently being probed for corruption.

Rumours about a possible investigation into Xiang have been swirling for months.

He has previously been tied to scandal. In 2014, the New York Times reported he approached JPMorgan executives for a job for the child of a well-connected friend.

Last November the company agreed to pay a $264 million fine to the US government to settle claims it had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by handing out jobs to the friends and family of top Chinese officials under similar circumstances in exchange for preferential treatment.