A Chinese insurance company threatened legal action yesterday after a media report linked a key government decision about the company to shareholdings held by relatives of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).
The New York Times said on Sunday that the chairman of Ping An Insurance (中國平安保險) wrote personally in 1999 to Wen, who was vice premier at the time, and met his wife as the government mulled a decision to split up the company.
Following the lobbying, it said, the government granted Ping An a waiver from a requirement that large financial companies be broken up.
An investment vehicle later controlled by relatives of Wen bought shares in Ping An at a significant discount following the government decision, long before most other investors could buy into the stock, the report said.
The company went on to become a hugely influential insurer and shareholdings held by Wen’s family grew hugely in value, peaking at US$2.2 billion in 2007, the paper reported.
Last month the Times reported that financial records showed Wen’s relatives had controlled assets worth at least US$2.7 billion, a report that China branded a smear.
Ping An said in a statement yesterday that “recent media coverage related to the company” contained “serious inaccuracies, facts being distorted and taken out of context, as well as flawed logic.”
Ping An “will take appropriate legal action commensurate with the damage and adverse impact the media reports have caused to the company,” the statement said, without elaborating.
A source close to Ping An said the statement was a response to the New York Times report, but that the company “doesn’t want to directly point to which media” in an official statement.
The source confirmed that Ping An’s chairman, Ma Mingzhe (馬明哲), wrote to Wen in 1999, when the government was considering breaking up the company, but said that the Times article had quoted the letter out of context.
Asked about the meeting between Ma and Wen’s wife Zhang Beili (張蓓莉), Ping An said it had no comment about the reported meeting.
The company added that “Ping An does not know the background of the entities behind our shareholders.”
Wen is expected to step down as premier in March, when he will be replaced by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強).