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Financially troubled Hong Kong animation studio Imagi International, producer of the 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit TNMT, has revealed that two of its top mainland Chinese executives are missing.
In a stock filing last Friday, Imagi reported that its chairman, Shan Jiuliang, and non-executive director Wen Di had been unreachable for weeks. Shan last attended a board meeting on Oct. 15 and hasn’t been heard from since, the company said. Wen dropped out of touch in early November.
According to the South China Morning Post, Shan and his wife, Zhang Peng, each hold separate 23.74 percent stakes in Imagi. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange-listed studio is said to have set up an internal special committee to try to protect the company’s assets.
When Chinese companies announce that they have “lost contact” with their leadership, the individuals are typically presumed detained by the Chinese authorities. Since president Xi Jinping took office in 2013, China has waged an aggressive and wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign, detaining hundreds of businesspeople and political leaders on various charges of graft and misconduct. The country has no habeas corpus law, meaning individuals can be held legally for six months or longer with no access to a lawyer or their families. Some of the “missing” executives eventually re-emerge and return to work — many do not. The disappearances are seldom given an official explanation.
Last summer’s stock market meltdown has led Chinese authorities to direct the brunt of their anti-corruption efforts towards the financial sector. The recent temporary disappearance of Guo Guangchang, the billionaire founder of investment conglomerate Fosun, made waves worldwide. Fosun’s diverse holdings span real estate, pharmaceuticals and entertainment — including a decisive stake in Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8 at Sony. Guo went missing in early December, but Fosun later said he was “assisting the authorities” in an investigation that concerned his personal affairs, not those of the company. That didn’t prevent Fosun’s stock prices from taking a dive after they resumed trading.
Although Imagi International has recently fallen into dire financial straights of its own — two of its former directors were prosecuted in 2012 for illegally short-selling the company’s shares — Shan and Wen’s current disappearance is believed to be tied to a much larger case concerning Fanya Metals Exchange, where Shan was also chairman.
Established in 2011, the privately controlled exchange allowed China’s growing ranks of commercial investors an opportunity to buy and sell rare metals and other highly liquid investment products. When Fanya suffered a liquidity crunch last summer, $6.6 billion of investor funds were frozen, and many have alleged that the exchange was nothing more than an elaborate Ponzi scheme.
In July, hundreds of angry investors gathered outside the company’s headquarters in Kunming, demanding to know what had happened to their money. A mob of investors later tracked down and kidnapped Shan, delivering him to a local police station and demanding he be prosecuted. He was released that day — but it would seem he’s now back on the inside.
Regardless of how they handle Shan and Wen, the Chinese authorities face a daunting task in dealing with Fanya’s billions of dollars of frozen assets and valuable metals.
“It’s not clear how all this winds down, or what the local government or Beijing will do,” David Abraham, director of the Technology, Rare and Electronic Materials Center told Reuters. “There are lots of wild cards here.”
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