After Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) told the legislature late last month that five stakeholders at Hong Kong-listed China Strategic Holdings (CSH) were members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China Strategic’s chief executive, Raymond Or (柯清輝), announced that he was resigning his CPPCC membership, saying he was doing so to avoid further delays in a consortium bid for Taiwanese life insurer Nan Shan Life.
The Investment Commission, which has already delayed approval of the bid over various unanswered questions surrounding the structure of the consortium (in which CSH is a leading player) and its funding sources, rightly said that Or’s resignation would have little impact on its decision whether to allow the acquisition to proceed.
A report released in March by Pan’s office showed that three China Strategic shareholders — Chongqing-born Zhang Song-qiao (張松橋), one of the 100 richest people in China; Wu Lianghao and Li Wulin — are also CPPCC members. Further investigation reveals that Hong Kong businesswoman Pollyanna Chu Yuet Wah is a major shareholder in the company. Her profile on the Web site of Golden Resorts, where she is chief executive officer, shows that Chu is a member of the National Committee of the CPPCC, a member of the Guangdong committee of the CPPCC and vice chairman of the Hong Kong CPPCC (Provincial) Member Association Foundation.
Membership in the CPPCC is both an instrument of co-optation by the CCP and a means to “reward” Chinese and members of minority groups — such as Hong Kongers and Tibetans, for example — for toeing the party line. What this means, therefore, is that members have either willingly submitted to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) line as an external agent or have a proven track record of respecting party ideology prior to being approached for membership. Regardless of whether they remain in the CPPCC or resign membership, as Or just did, these individuals have demonstrated a willingness to reproduce CCP policy. It also means that the connections and benefits that come membership will not necessarily vanish once they resign. The implications are that even someone who has resigned from the CPPCC will continue to abide by party policies, which means that the risk to Nan Shan is no less serious.
In addition to the CCP connections of shareholders at CSH, there are perhaps even more worrying doubts.
In April 2003, the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) took action against Chu for manipulative trading in derivative warrants listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. As a result, she was forced to surrender her registrations under the Securities Ordinance and the Commodities Trading Ordinance and was ordered not to apply for any registrations from the SFC for a period of 24 months.
Three other shareholders at China Strategic — Ren Dezhang (任德章, aka Yam Tak Cheung); Zhen Zhiping (甄志平, aka Yan Chi Ping); and Gu Baoshun (谷保順, aka Kuk Po Shun) — have also run afoul of the SFC in recent years for investment irregularities.
While Taiwanese law does not bar such individuals from participating in acquisition deals, it nevertheless raises serious questions about their moral compass and willingness to break the law. One wonders whether the current owners of Nan Shan, along with its tens of thousands of employees, are willing to place their future in the hands of such individuals.
And this is just China Strategic. The other principal actor behind the attempt to acquire Nan Shan is Primus Financial Holdings, which is no less problematic with its ties to former senior CCP officials. Both Primus and CSH have little, if any, experience running insurance companies (CSH was a battery maker) and reports already point to a possible bubble at China Strategic, which last year sought to raise US$1.49 million via share placement (interestingly, the controlling shareholder at Kingston Securities, the placing agent, is no other than Pollyanna Chu Yuet Wah).
Given the stakes, the bid is shrouded in too many uncertainties and the investment patterns on the Hong Kong side are too convoluted to be taken lightly — which the Investment Commission, to its credit, hasn’t done. It will take far, far more than Or’s symbolic resignation from the CPPCC to reassure the commission, Nan Shan’s employees and the insurer’s roughly 4 million policyholders.
J. Michael Cole is deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.
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