Chinese authorities have detained Li Hejun, the billionaire founder of thin-film solar panel firm Hanergy, local media reported on Wednesday.
Li, once dubbed China’s richest man, has reportedly not been seen since his arrest by Liaoning police in the Chinese city of Jinzhou on Dec. 17, 2022.
While some news sites reported that the reason for his detention was unclear, Chinese news outlet Jiemian News attributed Li’s arrest to his company’s links to the Bank of Jinzhou.
According to reports, Li’s company borrowed close to 10 billion yuan (approximately $1.5 billion) from the bank when its subsidiary, Hanergy Thin Film, launched its initial public offering on the Hong Kong stock exchange. The company raised 6 billion Hong Kong dollars (approximately $768 million) at the exchange.
By April 2015, Hanergy was worth over $45 billion, with shares surging 625 percent over the past year. This made Li China’s wealthiest man with a net worth of $26 billion, according to the research group Hurun Report.
However, his company’s rapid growth fueled speculations from regulators, analysts and investors about whether it was engaged in market manipulation.
In May 2015, a sudden sell-off saw the company’s value drop by 47 percent, with $18.6 billion wiped off its market value in less than an hour.
The company was later delisted after being investigated and eventually banned from the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2019.
The Bank of Jinzhou, which later announced that it had lost over $740 million in 2018 and 2019, was bailed out by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
The news of Li’s arrest comes amid a continued clampdown against tech billionaires and just days following reports that billionaire Jack Ma had given up control of leading Chinese financial technology provider Ant Group.
Media pundits have attributed Li’s wealth to his connections as well as the available government subsidies offered freely to the sustainable energy industry.
“A lot of people have gotten rich and powerful in today’s China thanks to key state policies, with the help of various personal connections,” current affairs commentator Zong Tao was quoted by Radio Free Asia as saying. “This kind of company is very common. They typically have no core technology and rely entirely on trading off government policies [and subsidies].”