(Bloomberg) -- Hui Ka Yan, the founder of China Evergrande Group that’s at the epicentre of China’s property crisis, has been put under police control, suggesting the firm may have entered a new phase involving the criminal justice system.
The move adds to questions over the future of the world’s most indebted developer after setbacks to its restructuring plan in recent days roiled financial markets and raised the risk of a liquidation. It also casts doubt on the fate of the 64-year-old billionaire himself. Here’s everything you need to know about the rise and fall of Evergrande’s rags-to-riches founder:
1. Who is Hui Ka Yan?
When Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the centenary in 2021 of the Communist Party’s founding with a speech proclaiming his nation’s unstoppable rise, there, overlooking the festivities in Tiananmen Square, was Evergrande founder Hui Ka Yan.
Born into poverty as the son of a wood cutter, Hui has been a party member for more than three decades and he has invested in areas endorsed by the top leadership, such as EVs and traditional Chinese medicine. He’s also been a prominent philanthropist — though his net worth has taken a beating recently. Evergrande’s purchase of local soccer team Guangzhou F.C. indicated a shared passion with Xi for the sport. But in the end, those political ties were not enough to avert a default and what’s now a deepening crisis within his empire.
2. How did Hui become chairman of Evergrande?
Hui, also known as Xu Jiayin in Mandarin, was born in Henan province in 1958. He lost his mother when he was eight months old, and was raised by his grandmother, who sold homemade vinegar, and his father, who cut wood for a living.
Encouraged by the prospect of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform plan, Hui quit his job at a steel firm in 1992 and headed to Shenzhen. He later began developing property in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong. He founded Evergrande in 1996 and relied on heavy borrowing to fuel its growth, becoming the largest dollar-debt borrower among its peers and for a time the country’s biggest developer by contracted sales. Evergrande says it owns more than 1,300 projects in 280 cities.
The company had a liquidity scare in 2020 and outlined a plan to roughly halve its $100 billion debt pile by mid-2023. But China’s housing market began to slow as regulators cracked down on excessive borrowing. Further funding problems sent the company’s stock and bonds tumbling and, after late payments on some dollar bonds, it missed a December 2021 deadline to pay two dollar-bond coupons.
3. How much is Hui worth?
As of late August, Hui had a net worth of $1.7 billion, down 96% from a five-year high of $39.8 billion in July 2020, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Much of his fortune was derived from his stake in Evergrande, from which he had received more than $7 billion in dividends since its listing in 2009, according to Bloomberg calculations.
His personal wealth was largely eroded by an epic fall in Evergrande shares since late 2020, while he has also tapped his own pockets to improve liquidity at the company following the defaults.
4. So where is Hui now?
Hui was taken away by Chinese police earlier this month, and is being monitored at a designated location under so-called residential surveillance — a type of police action that falls short of formal detention or arrest, Bloomberg reported. It’s unclear where exactly he is right now. The surveillance measures mean Hui is unable to leave that location, or meet or communicate with others without approval, based on China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which states the process should not exceed six months. Passports and identification cards will have been surrendered to police.
5. What have Chinese authorities said?
The Chinese authorities have remained tight-lipped about Hui’s status since Bloomberg reported on his detention. Guangdong police did not respond to requests for comment.
6. What will happen to Hui next?
That remains unclear at the moment. While being under residential surveillance doesn’t necessarily mean Hui will be charged with a crime later on, restrictions on his freedom suggest an ongoing investigation. Authorities earlier this month detained some staff at Evergrande’s wealth management unit and two former executives were also reportedly held.
7. What effect has his disappearance had on Evergrande?
The sudden disappearance of Hui, who remains chairman of Evergrande, has added uncertainty to the company’s planned restructuring, heightening the possibility of a liquidation if creditors fail to reach agreement.
The developer suspended trading in Hong Kong Thursday, along with its property services and electric vehicle units. No reason was given for the halt in a notice to the Hong Kong stock exchange.
8. What’s happened to Evergrande’s stock price?
It’s tumbled 99% from a high in July 2020, wiping out almost $47 billion in market value.
Doubts about the property giant’s financial health exploded to the fore in September 2020, following reports it had warned Chinese officials of a potential cash crunch that could pose systemic risks. Shares were then battered as the group tried and failed to cut debt and reassure investors, until it was declared to be in default in late 2021. Evergrande became a penny stock in late August, plunging as much as 87% after a 17-month trading halt as it unveiled more losses and delayed creditor meetings.
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