Top Chinese executive dies after falling from wall in France

Wang Jian

Wang Jian, co-chairman and co-founder of HNA Group, one of China's most acquisitive conglomerates, died during a business trip in France on July 3 after a serious injury caused by a fall, the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

Wang fell 15 meters off a wall in the village of Bonnieux, near Avignon, a picturesque area popular with tourists, lieutenant-colonel Hubert Meriaux of the Vaucluse gendarmerie force told Reuters. After failing a first time, Wang took a run up.

The Chairman of the multi-billion conglomerate was posing for a photo on the edge of a 50 foot drop when he slipped and fell to his death.

It is also part of a group of "grey rhinos" - companies whose risks are large and obvious but go unnoticed until it is too late - that regulators in China have begun to see as potential threats to the Chinese economy.

He fell from a wall in the village of Bonnieux on Tuesday as he was having his picture taken, police say.

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Chinese tycoon Wang Jian has died in France in freaky circumstances while on a sight-seeing trip. Earlier this week, HNA also gave up on the idea of buying the refrigerated trucking arm of Australia's Automotive Holdings Group due to reported cash flow problems.

Another police source told The New York Times that Wang's death was being investigated but that the police had no immediate suspicions of foul play. "But the long-term impact on the group will be limited".

The pair built what was originally a regional Chinese airline into one of the country's largest privately held conglomerates with interests in multiple airlines, hotels, financial institutions and other assets in China and overseas.

Wang obtained an undergraduate degree in Aviation Management from Civil Aviation University of China in 1983, and a master's degree in business administration from Maastricht School of Management in 1995, according to HNA. He along with co-founder Chen Feng transformed a regional airline based in China's Hainan province into a conglomerate with US$230 billion in assets. Growing into a multinational giant within two decades, the conglomerate now owns assets in numerous industries including aviation, real estate, financial services, tourism, and logistics. Under pressure from Beijing, HNA has since sold off many of those assets to slash debt.

A financial report in April revealed, however, that HNA's debts have reached $94 billion.

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