Senior bank regulatory official to be named China Huarong chairman: sources

BEIJING (Reuters) - China Huarong Asset Management Co Ltd 2799.HK is set to be helmed by a senior bank regulatory official, who will replace the current chairman under investigation for alleged corruption, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

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The official, Wang Zhanfeng, is the head of the Guangdong branch of China’s banking regulator, the people said.

China’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Tuesday it is investigating Huarong Chairman Lai Xiaomin for suspected “serious discipline violations”, a euphemism for graft, the latest in a string of probes into high-profile financial executives.

Huarong, one of China's largest state-owned bad debt managers, hit the headlines this year after building up a 36 percent stake in a key unit of embattled private energy company CEFC China Energy. The unit, CEFC Hainan International, is acquiring a $9.1 billion stake in Russia's oil major Rosneft ROSN.MM.

Li Xin, chief supervisor of China Orient Asset Management Co Ltd, will be appointed to the position of president which had been vacant, the people added, declining to be identified as the information was not public.

When contacted, a representative for Huarong referred to a filing. A filing has yet to be made, according to checks by Reuters.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission did not immediately respond to an emailed request seeking comment. Reuters was not able to reach Wang or Li for comment. China Orient declined to comment.

The appointments were announced to a small group of executives internally on Wednesday, one of the sources said, adding that the personnel changes will “have a large impact” on the operations of Huarong, a company Lai has headed since 2009.

Huarong's Hong Kong-listed shares 2799.HK, which have a market value of HK$124 billion ($15.80 billion), were suspended from trade on Wednesday, pending a statement.

Trade in shares of two of its units, Huarong Investment Stock Corp Ltd 2277.HK and Huarong International Financial Holdings Ltd 0993.HK, was also suspended.

State-controlled Huarong is among the Big Four bad debt managers created in 1999 to take over distressed assets from China’s Big Four state-owned lenders.

Reuters, Chinese and international media reported in March that Ye Jianming, the chairman and founder of privately owned CEFC, had been investigated for suspected economic crimes. Ye’s current whereabouts are unclear.

Reporting by Shu Zhang, Li Zheng and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Aizhu Chen in Beijing and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong; Editing by Edwina Gibbs