Senior Nomura banker barred from leaving mainland China

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A senior Nomura banker has been banned from leaving mainland China, a move connected to a long-running investigation into the country’s top tech dealmaker Bao Fan, according to people familiar with the matter.

The restrictions on Charles Wang Zhonghe, chair of investment banking for China at the Hong Kong arm of Japanese bank Nomura International, only applied to travel outside mainland China and he was not in detention, one person familiar with the matter said.

But the exit ban on a veteran Hong Kong-based banker of Wang’s standing will send a chill through China’s overseas business community, where foreign chamber of commerce surveys indicate investor confidence is already low.

The US state department has warned visitors to China to reconsider travel in the country “due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions”.

Wang’s travel freeze follows the months-long disappearance of tech sector dealmaker Bao, founder of investment group China Renaissance, and of Cong Lin, another of its former senior executives. Bao has not been seen since February, when the company said he was “co-operating in an investigation”. 

Wang joined Nomura in 2018 after working at state-run bank ICBC International between 2011 and 2016, according to his details on LinkedIn. 

Three people familiar with the matter confirmed that Wang was subject to an exit ban. Two of them said it was in relation to his time at ICBC when he overlapped with Cong.

Cong left ICBC to join China Renaissance in 2017 after playing an important role in a strategic partnership between the two banks. As part of that partnership, ICBC International provided a $200mn credit line to China Renaissance backed by pledged shares in the investment bank.

Cong was summoned by China’s securities regulator a year ago for a “supervisory discussion”, after which he exited senior positions at China Renaissance’s securities unit and was detained.

The disappearance of Bao, a former Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse banker who dealt with China’s rising technology stars, hurt sentiment in a sector that has suffered a prolonged crackdown by the authorities.  

In a September 13 social media post by Wang seen by Financial Times, the banker said he was on a trip to China’s western Qinghai province. 

“On the starting date of my birth, and the turning point of my life, I started my journey to the northwestern side of the mother country . . . [I shall] always be on the road, always have bottom lines, and always cherish truth, kindness and love,” he wrote.

China has a long history of unexplained detentions of senior business people and officials. In recent months, this has extended to cabinet-level ministers with the disappearances of the country’s foreign and defence ministers. 

After working on Wall Street in the 1990s, Wang moved to Hong Kong in 1996 where he worked at Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank and also had a stint in Beijing at Zhong De Securities, a joint venture between Deutsche Bank and a domestic company, Shanxi Securities. 

He rose to be deputy chief executive officer of ICBC based in Hong Kong, where he was responsible for business development and management of investment banking and capital markets. 

Nomura declined to comment on the matter. Wang did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

Additional reporting by Sun Yu in Beijing

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