How fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui lured Abu Dhabi investors into the mire

Updated 2017-08-03 16:30:47 Caixin

Using government connections and bombastic rhetoric, Chinese fugitive businessman Guo Wengui once pictured an investment oasis to lure billions of dollars from Abu Dhabi investors seeking higher returns in China's financial market. But as Guo's business network unraveled amid unfolding graft investigations, the oasis turned out to be a mirage.

Guo, the real-estate magnate behind the landmark, dragon-shaped Pangu Plaza near Beijing's Olympic stadium, is listed by Interpol in an arrest notice at China's request. Prosecutors in China are investigating a series of suspicious bribery, embezzlement and fraud cases allegedly linked to Guo and his companies, according to sources in the judiciary system.

Guo fled China in 2014 to avoid investigations that brought down his close ally Ma Jian, the disgraced former vice minister of the Ministry of State Security. But Guo has continued to move capital among dozens of shell companies registered in Hong Kong, the U.S., Canada and the British Virgin Islands to hunt for profits in the Chinese market and to fund his extravagant lifestyle in Hong Kong and the U.S., Caixin found from business and legal documents and sources close to the matters.

A large chunk of money Guo maneuvered overseas was raised from the Abu Dhabi royal family, Caixin has found. Leveraging his ties with Ma as well as with former British prime minister Tony Blair, who served as a United Nations peace envoy and has known Guo since 2008, Guo portrayed himself as someone with an official background and promised tempting investment opportunities into China's profitable financial institutions, including the Minsheng Bank, the country's largest private-owned commercial lender.

But Guo's promise of big investment returns never materialized. Instead, the Abu Dhabi investors later found part of the billion they put in an investment fund managed by Guo has been used in loss-making deals, debt repayment and Guo's personal spending, including the purchase of a yacht, sources said.

Abu Dhabi Wealth

After the 2008 global financial crisis, the Abu Dhabi royal family sought to allocate more of their massive investment portfolio to the Asia and China markets to hedge risks. In early 2012, during a visit to the United Arab Emirates by then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the two sides first proposed the idea of setting up an intergovernmental joint investment fund. But it wasn't until late 2015 that the official UAE-China Joint Investment Fund was created.

Guo sensed opportunity and moved early and quickly. Beginning in 2013 he started approaching senior members of Abu Dhabi, including Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive officer of Mubadala Investment Co., an Abu Dhabi strategic investment fund, sources close to Guo said. In the summer of that year, Guo received Abu Dhabi guests in Beijing. He also took several trips to Abu Dhabi during the year, civil aviation flight records show.

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