Economy

China’s HNA Group chairman dies in France

China’s HNA Group chairman dies in France

The owner and co-founder of giant China's HNA group died today by falling from a high parapet in southern France, while he was on a tour.

The turmoil deepened at HNA Group Co., the Chinese conglomerate that's been selling billions of dollars in assets to stay afloat, after its No. 2 executive died while touring southeastern France.

The 57-year-old had been trying to take photographs in the village of Bonnieux, near Avignon, when he fell 32ft off a wall.

Local police said Wang's fall was likely an accident, Reuters reported.

HNA said Wang, whose personal fortune is estimated at $US1.7 billion by Forbes magazine, had been visiting Bonnieux during a business trip to France.

HNA Group issued the following statement: "HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang's family and many friends".

The company also published its website in monochrome as an apparent mark of respect.

Mr Wang helped turn HNA into one of the world's biggest companies, with assets in aviation, tourism and finance.

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It removes a key figure from the top of a sprawling business empire that owns China-based Hainan Airlines, as well as stakes in Deutsche Bank and Hilton hotels group.

Wang told employees earlier this year that the company's difficulties were the result of a "major conspiracy" against the ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping by foreign and domestic "reactionary forces", according to an internally-distributed email.

However, HNA started to sell large chunks of its worldwide interests in the wake of a crackdown by Chinese authorities on debt-fuelled financing. HNA said previous year that its executives plan to donate all their shares to the Cihang charities that own a majority of HNA should they resign or die. Most notably, the company announced that its largest shareholder, a mysterious businessman named Guan Jun, had donated his 30 percent stake in the company to a charitable organization.

The firm did not provide details on how he died.

Shares of HNA's Hong Kong-listed subsidiaries slumped Wednesday after HNA published a statement on Wang's death, which occurred Tuesday. The company is also 30% owned by a New York-based foundation and 23% controlled by a China-based charity.

Wang, 57, along with Chen, has led HNA's rapid expansion since it was set up in 1999 as a small regional carrier.

Wang obtained an undergraduate degree in Aviation Management from Civil Aviation University of China in 1983, and a master's degree in business administration from Holland Maastricht School of Management in 1995, according to HNA.


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