Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China Ltd. has threatened legal action over a New York Times article reporting that relatives of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made a fortune off shares in the insurer, which had previously lobbied Wen to save it from a government-mandated breakup.
The insurer issued a statement Monday saying that recent media coverage relating to the company contained “serious inaccuracies, facts being distorted and taken out of context, as well as flawed logic.”
“This has significantly misled investors and the public, as well as adversely impacted Ping An,” the company said. “We will take appropriate legal action commensurate with the damage and adverse impact the media reports have caused to the company.”
Ping An did not name the New York Times in its release, but a company spokesman told Reuters that it was a Times’ story that prompted the statement.
That story, which ran Nov. 24, described Ping An chairman Ma Mingzhe’s written appeal in 1999 to then-Vice Premier Wen and the head of China’s central bank in the wake of the Asian financial crisis to help keep the company intact.
While the Times says it is not known whether either politician intervened on Ping An’s behalf, the company ultimately was not broken up and is now worth $50 billion—more than American International Group Inc. and MetLife Inc.
The story is the latest from the Times regarding the accumulation of wealth by Wen’s family, much of it amassed through holdings in Ping An. The Nov. 24 article described how a company now controlled by Wen’s relatives was able to buy a significantly discounted block of shares in Ping An for $65 million in 2002. Five years later, those shares were worth $3.7 billion.
The story noted that it is not known whether Wen was aware of his family’s interests in the insurer.
Ping An did not elaborate on what legal action it was contemplating or in what jurisdiction it might bring suit.
A spokeswoman for the Times said the newspaper stands by its story. She declined further comment.
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