By Emeka Ejere
The chairman and co-founder of one of China’s largest conglomerates, HNA, has died from an accidental fall while travelling in France, according to the company.
HNA said on Wednesday that Wang Jian, 57, had fallen and died from his injuries on Tuesday in Provence, without providing any more details of his death.
French media reported that a 57-year-old Chinese tourist had died after falling down the stairs of a church in the village of Bonnieux on Tuesday while trying to take a photograph. Other reports said Wang had fallen off a cliff while having his picture taken. Police said they were not treating his death as suspicious.
HNA, the owner of Hainan Airlines, once symbolised the appetite of Chinese companies for assets outside of China.
However, after a $50bn (£37.9bn) global buying spree of hotels, real estate, financial services and other investments, HNA is now one of the country’s most indebted companies.
It is also part of a group of “grey rhinos” – companies whose risks are large and obvious but go unnoticed until it is too late – that regulators in China have begun to see as potential threats to the Chinese economy.
Under pressure to deleverage, HNA has been divesting assets, including real estate as well as stakes in Deutsche Bank and Hilton Worldwide Holdings.
There are signs it is still struggling. A deal in which HNA would purchase an Australian logistics company for $207m fell through this week over “liquidity problems” at HNA. Last year, regulators in New Zealand blocked HNA from purchasing a car loan company out of concern over the company’s financial stability.
On Wednesday, HNA turned its website grey. “We mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy,” the company said in a statement.