Huang Xiaoming, one of China’s highest paid male actors, has denied being involved in stock price manipulation and investing in a vaccine maker found by the Chinese regulator to have produced substandard products – but apologised for his “indiscretion in wealth management” after the revelation of his link to a private wealth manager found guilty of manipulating prices.

A statement on social media by the actor, who has been referred to as China’s Brad Pitt, just after midnight on Wednesday came after The Economic Observer, a Chinese-language weekly, reported that Huang was questioned for three hours by Chinese investigators because his money was related to the prosecuted private wealth manager.

He was not charged with any wrongdoing, according to the report.

Huang also said he had never taken part in the purchase of Changsheng Bio-technology stock, denying reports that he was a key investor in the vaccine maker that is at the centre of China’s biggest public health crisis in recent years.

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The exposure of Huang’s ties to a stock price manipulation scandal came at a time when the Chinese government is upping scrutiny of the country’s celebrities’ financial deals.

A joint task force involving China’s tax bureau, the foreign-exchange watchdog, financial crime investigators and regulators of the publishing, broadcasting and sports bureaus has launched a crackdown on tax evasion and offshore currency transfers by some of the country’s highest-paid celebrities to placate a public expressing anger about a yawning income gap.

In the statement, Huang said he has a stock trading account in China but that it was delegated to his mother to manage. He said his mother in turn delegated the account to an agent surnamed Lu to manage.

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Lu, according to Huang’s statement, assigned it to Gao Yong – who the China Securities Regulatory Commission said on July 3 and August 10 had been found guilty of manipulating stock prices by using 16 stock trading accounts between 2014 and 2016, and fined 897 million yuan (US$130 million) on top of the confiscation of 897 million yuan acquired illegally.

One of the 16 accounts was owned by a person surnamed Huang, who Chinese financial magazine Caixin identified on Monday as Huang Xiaoming.

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The regulator’s statement said the transactions in Huang’s account were conducted by Gao.

“I hereby state I have never participated in any activities manipulating stock prices,” Huang wrote on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, where the actor has 58.6 million followers.

“The recent incident is caused by my indiscretion in wealth management. I am sorry about the negative impacts, and will learn a lesson from it.”

Huang denied buying shares in Changsheng Bio-technology, which has been found to have falsified data and sold ineffective vaccines for children, a case that has ignited public anger.

Stock filing records show Huang was a major shareholder of Huanghai Machinery in the third quarter of 2014, taking up a 0.9 per cent stake, before the listed vehicle was taken over by vaccine maker Changsheng in 2015. Huang said he had divested the shares before the takeover and had “no relations at all” with the vaccine maker.

The 41-year-old Huang was ranked No 16 in the 2017 Forbes Chinese Celebrity list with a personal annual income of 170 million yuan. His wife, model and actress Yang Ying, also known as Angelababy, was at No 8 with an income of 200 million yuan.

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The couple’s lavish lifestyle, including their wedding in Shanghai in 2015 and the birth of their first child in Hong Kong last year, has attracted widespread attention among the Chinese public.

Anger and doubts about the eye-popping financial gains of China’s nouveau riche are growing at a time when the economy is losing steam.

The Chinese government said last month that actors’ pay for films and television programmes would be capped at 40 per cent of production costs. Nine of China’s top television and film production and distribution companies this month agreed to cap the salary for all television actors at 1 million yuan (US$145,000) per episode and 50 million yuan for a season.

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The changes were made after Fan Bingbing, China’s most flamboyant actress, who has an annual income estimated at 300 million yuan, was embroiled in a tax evasion scandal in June, since when she has disappeared from public view.

Guo Shiliang, an independent commentator based in Guangzhou, said China’s celebrities, like Fan and Huang, “are facing a sharply growing pressure from the public and the regulators” as Beijing targets them to send a message about social fairness.

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“The unfairness is reflected in wealth, and the way people get wealth,” Guo said. “It seems that, leveraged on their privileged access to information and power, these people are making money so easily, which generates resentments in the general public. That is something that Beijing would address for a priority.”

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Zhao Wei, a billionaire Chinese actress, is facing a class action along with her husband from retail investors who suffered heavy losses after investing in a listed company that had been targeted for a highly leveraged takeover by the couple last year.

A local court in east China’s Hangzhou had a first hearing of the case on July 18, as individual investors complained of the couple making fake disclosures which affected stock prices.

While movie stars may be the most visible rich people to the public, the country’s richest are property developers and hi-tech firm bosses, according to the China rich list compiled by Forbes.

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