BEIJING — Chinese regulators have taken over Anbang Insurance Group Co., the sprawling Chinese conglomerate that owns New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and charged its once highflying former chairman with economic crimes.
Anbang and its well-connected boss had been on a global spending spree in recent years, making headlines in the United States when it purchased the Waldorf for an eye-popping $1.95 billion, in 2014, and then again when news broke that President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, had met Anbang’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui, in November 2016.
While Chinese regulators have not linked the takeover to Kushner or any specific deal, analysts suggest the move against the ambitious insurer could be an attempt to rein in high spending companies and more closely regulate the financial sector.
In a statement posted on its website on Friday, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission said the government was taking over to ensure the “normal and stable operation” of the company.
“Illegal operations at Anbang may have seriously endangered the company’s solvency, prompting the government to take control,” the statement read.
Because of the size of the company and the fact that Wu is politically well-connected — he is married to a granddaughter of former leader Deng Xiaoping — the takeover and the charges are being closely watched in political and business circles here.
Though the political implications of his ouster are still unclear, analysts see the move as a way to shore up confidence in the company and signal tighter regulation to come.
“The China Insurance Regulatory Commission’s stewardship is not totally surprising because Anbang Life still has millions of policies outstanding and may face liquidity problems if policyholders defected en masse,” said Victor Shih, an associate professor at the University of California at San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.
The move will “inject a dose of confidence,” he added.
It may also be part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to rein in the financial sector.
“We can see that the authorities intend to strike a balance between de-risking and financial stability,” said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank AG, in Singapore, noting that personnel changes among the top financial regulators indicate that the targeting of company debt will intensify over the coming year.
Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian who closely tracks political and economic shifts, saw the news as way to ease global concerns about China’s global influence.
“Alarm bells are now ringing across the world on China’s rise and overseas expansion,” he said. “China’s overseas strategy is being met with resistance or targeted for investigation.”
“Maybe this news is also sending a message to the West: that China is in fact ruled by financial order and laws which are not to be messed with by a company like Anbang.”
Amber Wang and Yang Liu contributed from Beijing.