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China warns top bankers of deepening crackdown on corruption

China warns top bankers of deepening crackdown on corruption
Chinese national flags fly over Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, on Sunday, March 12, 2023. (Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Chinese authorities warned the nation’s top banking executives that the crackdown on the $60-trillion industry is far from over in a private meeting late on Friday, just as they were about to announce the probe of the most senior state banker in nearly two decades.

Officials from the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection called in top executives from at least six big state-owned banks to address the probe of Bank of China Ltd.’s former chairman Liu Liange, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named as the information is private.

The meeting was taking place just as the CCDI announced the investigation of Liu in a one-sentence statement, saying he is suspected of “serious violations of discipline and law.”

The CBIRC and the CCDI said they would deepen the crackdown on corruption in the financial industry, and that bankers should draw lessons from Liu, said the people. Banking staff, especially senior executives, must comply with laws and regulations and strengthen self-discipline, the people added. 

While it’s not uncommon for authorities to call bankers in at short notice after a high-profile probe, the latest warning adds to evidence that President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign is picking up steam even after the claim of initial success last year. At least 20 financial executives had been probed or penalised since late February. Star banker Bao Fan, chairman of China Renaissance Holdings, also disappeared almost two months ago. 

The CBIRC and the CCDI didn’t immediately comment.

The finance industry is being rocked by a clampdown that started in late 2021 and shows no sign of abating. The dragnet has become the most extensive ever and dovetails with a broader government shakeup as Xi embarked on a third term in office.

CCDI said last week it will start a fresh round of checks at more than 30 state-owned companies from China Investment Corp. to PetroChina Co., including a “look back” at five financial companies that had been previously targeted. 

The announcement of the investigation of Liu came just about a month after he was abruptly removed as the party chief of the nation’s fourth-largest bank. China on Tuesday expelled Jiang Liming, a former director supervising rural and small financial institutions at the banking watchdog, from the Communist Party after placing her under probe a year ago. 

On Monday, the CCDI said that Huang Xianhui, former general manager and party chief at China Huarong Asset Management’s Beijing branch, is also being probed on suspicion of serious violation of law. 

Huarong, which was once China’s largest bad-debt manager, has been plagued by scandals and massive losses. Its former chairman, Lai Xiaomin, was executed in 2021 after being convicted of crimes including bribery.

Xi has also tightened his grip over the industry, announcing a broad overhaul of the financial regulatory regime as he began his third term. A long-disbanded Central Financial Work Commission will be revived to guide party building in the sector, including personnel arrangement and anti-corruption.

At the same time, Chinese officials have been wooing private and foreign businesses to restore confidence in the world’s second-largest economy. Premier Li Qiang has voiced his “unwavering support” for the private sector during the National People’s Congress in March.

Yi Huiman, head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, on Friday reiterated the nation’s determination to continue opening up its capital markets in a meeting with the heads of 10 international financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs Group, in Beijing. BM/DM

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