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But the company did not address news reports that Wu had been detained by Chinese authorities, an assertion first made by the Chinese magazine Caijing on Tuesday.

SHANGHAI, June 14 China stocks fell early Wednesday, led by blue-chips, as sentiment was soured by a media report alleging a probe of the head of financial conglomerate Anbang Insurance Group, plus weak May investment data deepening worries of economic deceleration.

In a statement on its website, Anbang said Wu "cannot perform his duties due to personal reasons".

According to Anbang, Wu's duties would be managed by other senior executives, and its business was operating normally.

Wu, who had been instrumental in Anbang's rapid rise to global prominence, is the latest Chinese tycoon to be ensnared in an anti-corruption drive that had swept the country in recent years. High-profile bids for American hotels, insurance assets and a Manhattan office tower owned by the family of USA presidential adviser Jared Kushner have all fallen through over the past 18 months. The deal was scrapped after intense public scrutiny, amid criticism from lawmakers and government ethics experts who saw it as a potential attempt by China to curry favour with the White House.

Anbang and Jared Kushner were recently reported to be negotiating a deal to develop one of Kushner's Manhattan buildings (666 Fifth Avenue), but it was called off after media speculation over conflict of interest. That lack of transparency led regulators in NY to demand details of Anbang's funding and shareholding structure before approving the purchase of a USA insurer. Caijing didn't immediately answer calls and emails requesting comment before regular business hours in Beijing.

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Some of the headwinds facing Anbang are not unique to the company.

In January, Xiao Jianhua, a billionaire, was abducted by Chinese security agents from his apartment at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong and spirited across the border. China's insurance regulators have embarked on an industrywide crackdown this year, seeking to curtail sales of risky products and restrict acquisitions of listed firms.

Yet in several cases, Anbang has been singled out by authorities. It wasn't clear if that investigation identified any wrongdoing.

Some Chinese government-linked business associations that promote trade and investment were told by authorities at the end of 2016 that they shouldn't enter into new partnerships with Anbang and should terminate existing relationships, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Wu's strategy echoed that of famed US investor Warren Buffett - an aggressive pursuit of yield-producing companies, funded by cash from selling insurance products and other sources. Anbang denied that Wu had been barred from traveling overseas. It also noted that Anbang's capital and assets had ballooned despite the relatively low market share of its insurance products, citing figures from China's insurance regulator.


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