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China's top insurance regulator probed for 'disciplinary violations'

Xiang Junbo Photo: AP

The head of China's insurance regulatory body is under investigation for suspected disciplinary violations, the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s anti-corruption body said on Sunday.

In a brief statement, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced that Xiang Junbo, 60, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), is "suspected of severe disciplinary violations", a term usually used for corruption.

The CCDI gave no further details about the investigation.

As the chairman of the CIRC, Xiang oversaw the fast growth of the insurance industry, along with liberalization of investment rules that provided insurers greater latitude to invest more of their assets at home and abroad.

Before starting his service as the chairman of the CIRC in 2011, Xiang was the president of Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), one of the four biggest stated-owned banks in the country.

There are signs that the investigation into Xiang may be related to discipline violations and illegal acts during his time at ABC, industry watchers said, according to a report by Caijing, a mainstream business media in China.

In 2014, Yang Kun, the ABC's former vice president, stood trial for taking bribes totaling 30 million yuan and seeking benefits for people by taking advantage of his position with the bank. At the time, media reports speculated that Xiang had something to do with Yang's corruption, even though there was a lack of evidence.

Less than three hours after the announcement of the investigation into Xiang, the Chinese central government's website, www.gov.cn, published a speech delivered by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a March conference focusing on clean governance. In his remarks, Premier Li urged authorities to combat corruption in the financial sector with no mercy, as risks of bad loans, bond defaults, shadow banking and Internet finance exist in the industry,

"Corruption in the financial sector should be resolutely investigated and punished," Premier Li said in the speech, stressing that individual regulators and senior company executives who have embezzled public funds entrusted to them or illegally colluded with financial crocodiles must be severely punished.

On Monday morning, Premier Li's speech was reposted on the website of the CCDI.

Caijing quoted industry watchers as saying that Premier Li's remarks could be partly seen as an important explanation for the investigation of Xiang.

A quondam anti-graft fighter

Xiang is the 28th CPC Central Committee member snared for alleged corruption since 2012 when Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a nation-wide campaign against corruption.

However, it was rarely known that the senior government official doubled as a scriptwriter. In 1986, Xiang created a teleplay named "People will never forget" on the theme of anti-corruption.

In 1999, he headed the audit work of tax collection and administration of Jixian county in Tianjin, a port city in northern China.

Xiang succeeded Liu Tinghuan as the vice governor of the People's Bank of China (PBOC) in 2004 when industry insiders widely believed that Xiang, with rich work experience in audit, would play a significant role in preventing financial risks and improving the clean governance system of the central bank.

At a press conference in February, Xiang stressed that the insurance industry could not be allowed to serve as the "club of wealthy men" and the "hideout of financial crocodiles", promising stricter crackdown on short-term speculators.
 


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