Chinese insurer fights accusation of misconduct

The Chinese insurer that bought New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel is fighting an accusation by China's leading business magazine that it lied about its finances.

The report by Caixin follows a series of foreign acquisitions by Anbang Insurance Group that raised questions in the Chinese business press about how it was paying for its multibillion-dollar buying spree.

This year, Anbang discussed investing in a Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump, but the talks ended with no deal.

Caixin reported last week that Anbang made itself look financially stronger by improperly using payments from policyholders to expand its capital base in 2014 while saying the money came from investors.

Anbang denied that and accused Caixin of publishing negative information about the company and its founder, Wu Xiaohui, after pressing it to buy advertising.

"Caixin Media, through a series of libelous reports, wrongly accused us of unlawful business operations, which misled public opinion," the company said in a statement. "These actions resulted in severe damages to the reputation of our company and Mr. Wu."

The report comes as China's insurance industry faces scrutiny following complaints of reckless speculation in stocks and real estate. The industry's top regulator is under investigation by the national anti-corruption agency.

The China Insurance Regulatory Commission did not respond to questions sent by fax about whether Anbang was suspected of wrongdoing.

Caixin, whose editor, Hu Shuli, is one of the country's most respected journalists, rejected Anbang's accusation.

"Caixin Media has always upheld the highest ethical standard on professional integrity and public trust," the magazine said in a statement. "It sets a strict firewall between its business and newsroom operations, preventing any possible erosion of its journalistic independence."

Anbang was founded in 2004 by Wu. Early investors included a state-owned automaker, an oil company and a mix of rural villagers and small business owners.

It grew to more than 30,000 employees serving 35 million clients and diversified into life insurance, banking, asset management, leasing and brokerage services.

Anbang, which is privately held, said earlier it raised 50 billion yuan ($8 billion) from investors in 2014 to pay for its buying spree, taking on dozens of new shareholders.

That increased its registered capital fivefold to 62 billion yuan ($9.5 billion), the biggest among Chinese insurers.

Caixin said at least 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) of that money really was payments from policyholders, which the magazine said was channeled back into the company through a complex ownership structure. That would violate regulations that an insurer cannot invest in itself.

Anbang said regulatory controls would make it impossible to hide such a flow of money.