Deep Background

Arrest of Chinese ‘Billionaire’ Triggers Diligence Look-back


January 10, 2019
Courtesy of China Energy Fund Committee

A purported Chinese billionaire is now being held in detention by Chinese authorities on undisclosed criminal allegations, and the Beijing government seized control of his business empire.  Ye Jianming’s many investors and political allies around Asia, Europe and the U.S. may wish they had done more checking into his origin story before getting drawn in by him.

“Many who met Mr. Ye believed he was the grandson of a famous Chinese military leader” with a similar name, Ye Jianying, a hero of Mao-era China, according to the New York Times. Sometimes the billionaire denied it, “but others in his business circles fanned the rumors, said two people who were aware of their activities.”  People from his home province said his father and grandfather, far from being top Communist officials, were boatmen who “ferried people and goods along the region’s inland waterways…Many believed he had access to untold wealth; now, it appears his empire was built on a mountain of debt.”

Courtesy of Luo Yunfei/Getty Images

Recently one of Ye’s top business deputies was convicted in federal court in New York of bribing African officials for energy contracts.  Many people are now scrubbing the billionaire’s biography for the true story of his business rise.  “The biggest mystery” in the rapid growth of Ye’s empire, Bloomberg reported, “has been where exactly their money came from.”