One of China’s wealthiest actresses has been hit with a five-year ban from the country’s securities markets after China’s financial watchdog found that she deliberately misled stock investors by providing fake information.
Zhao Wei and her husband, Huang Youlong, were each slapped with a 300,000 yuan ($45,000) fine for not telling the truth during an attempted 30 billion-yuan buyout that ultimately fell through, according to a filing on the Shanghai Stock Exchange released Thursday.
Zhao is known as China’s “show business Buffett” after American business magnate Warren Buffett, due to her proclivity for investing, primarily in media companies, and together the celebrity power couple have a net worth of 6.6 billion yuan. Zhao and Huang are the second-largest investors in fellow billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba Pictures Group, and last year, the couple made the Under 40s Hurun Global Rich List, produced by Shanghai-based research unit Hurun Report.
Zhao rose to fame in 1998 for her role in “Huanzhu Gege,” or “The Return of the Pearl Princess” — an immensely popular TV series set during the Qing Dynasty. On average, nearly half the country’s population tuned in to each episode, and the series remains one of the top-viewed in China 20 years after its debut. Zhao’s performance in the drama won her national awards and made her an icon to China’s millennials. Fans lovingly referred to Zhao as “Little Swallow,” the name of her character in the series.
On Wednesday, the country’s market supervisory body, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, determined that Zhao, her husband, and Zhejiang Sunriver Culture, the company they were attempting to buy, had violated information disclosure rules, thereby misleading the market about the financial capabilities of Zhao’s company, according to the filing, which was posted by Zhejiang Sunriver Culture.
Zhejiang Sunriver Culture was also fined 600,000 yuan for failing to disclose information about the deal.
“The news concerning the acquisition caused great turbulence for the share price of Zhejiang Sunriver, which drew a lot of attention from both the market and media,” the commission said after concluding its nine-month investigation, according to the filing. “It severely affected the market order, investor confidence, and the fairness of the market.”
In December of last year, Zhao — who has also used the name Vicki Zhao — and her husband announced plans to buy a 29 percent controlling stake in Zhejiang Sunriver Culture, an internet animation company listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and formerly known as Zhejiang Wanjia.
Zhao’s company, Longwei Culture & Media, founded only a month before the deal’s announcement, said it would pay 60 million yuan and make up the rest of the money by borrowing from other companies and financial institutions. Around 1.5 billion yuan was to come from a company connected to Tomorrow Group, a conglomerate founded by Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua, who went missing in Hong Kong in January. Xiao’s company has denied working with Zhao on the deal.
In February, when Zhao’s company failed to raise enough money to complete the acquisition, the two companies agreed to shrink the deal to just 5 percent of Sunriver’s shares. Two months later, however, Sunriver announced that the deal had been called off, and that Zhao’s company would not be held accountable for failing to make good on its offer.
An attempt by Sixth Tone to contact Sunriver was unsuccessful.
Thursday’s filing made a splash online. While most commenters have asserted that Zhao and her husband deserve their punishment, others have lamented the TV star’s precipitous fall from grace.
“The Little Swallow has now turned into a black crow,” said one netizen. Another quoted a line from a song Zhao’s character sings in the show, writing: “There is a girl who is kind of willful, and kind of aggressive.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Zhao Wei (third from left) and Huang Youlong (fourth from left) pose for a photo during a promotional event in Hollywood, California, U.S., June 3, 2015. Juan Rico/IC)