Chairman Of Chinese Conglomerate HNA Dies In Accidental Fall From Cliff

Bad things happen to heads of Chinese conglomerates that have suffered a falling out with Beijing: one year ago, the head of Anbang, Wu Xiaohui, who at one point was the most voracious money launderer acquiror of companies around the globe (and was linked to Jared Kishner's 666 Fifth Avenue building), mysteriously disappeared for an extended period of time after he was detained by Chinese authorities. Fast forward to today, when the chairman and co-founder of China's other conglomerate, HNA Group, died in Provence, France, the company said on Wednesday, in what appears to have been a freak photography accident.

Wang Jian, 57, was injured in a fall during a business trip, and died on Tuesday, according to a brief statement.

The company did not give the circumstances of Wang’s death or provide an exact location. A clerk at the Chinese embassy in Paris said she had no information on the case, according to SCMP. The company also published its website in monochrome as an apparent mark of respect.

According to Chinese business and finance magazine Caixin, Wang fell from a cliff near Avignon. He was taken to a local hospital for emergency treatment but fell into a coma. The sources said that Wang woke up at one point and complained that “my feet hurt”.

In a phone interview with Bloomberg, Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Meriaux, a police officer in Avignon, said that an autopsy conducted Wednesday morning didn’t reveal anything suspicious in the death Wang, whose family was expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon in Avignon where the body is resting.

Meriaux said that Wang died around 11:40am CET Tuesday after falling off a 10-15 meter high retaining wall next to a rock at the highest point in Bonnieux, a small scenic village near Avignon. Wang lost his balance as he attempted to climb onto the wall and fell down the other side. He added that Wang, who was still conscious after the fall, died before emergency services arrived.

As Reuters adds, local police said that Wang died in the village of Bonnieux in Provence, after falling 10 meters off a wall while trying to take a photograph.

He tried to climb a low wall to see the view and take pictures,” the source said. After failing a first time, Wang took a run up. “He fell over the top and dropped 10 meters.”

In a separate statement written in English, the company’s board and management team, led by co-founder Chen Feng and chief executive Adam Tan, said: “HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr Wang’s family and many friends. Together, 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.”

Wang’s death comes just over a month after HNA Group denied rumors that Chen had died.

Wang was the driving forces behind the massive expansion of HNA Group. As co-founders, Wang and Chen transformed a regional airline based in China’s tropical island province of Hainan into a conglomerate with US$230 billion in assets.

Sources close to the company said Wang took a hands-on approach to running the company although Chen tended to be its public face.

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, the embattled group appeared to have won a reprieve of sorts recently, when at a meeting held by China’s central bank, lenders were told to “support” HNA bonds, Bloomberg and the Financial Times reported last month.