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China tycoon vanishes

Shanghai, Nov. 4 (Reuters): One of China’s most powerful businessmen and the chairman of a Shanghai-listed company has gone missing, his firm said today, leaving behind liabilities of more than $100 million.

The disappearance of 45-year-old Aikelamu Aishayoufu appeared to be the latest in a string of scandals involving tycoons in the communist country where the fast-growing economy is increasingly in the hands of freewheeling capitalists. Xinjiang Hops Co Ltd had been unable to contact Aishayoufu, a prominent ethnic Uighur, since Thursday, a company executive said.

“We last saw him at a board meeting on October 26, and we only found out he was missing after the Shanghai exchange tried to contact him on October 30,” a company official said.

A former central bank official and the deputy chief of a local business body, Aishayoufu was named China’s 22nd most powerful man in terms of capital controlled by a public company in a poll by AsiaMoney magazine last month.

His company had been preparing a routine check on liabilities when the chairman vanished, the executive said.

He left behind liabilities of 987.86 million yuan ($119.4 million), the firm said in a statement in the Shanghai Securities News.

That represents about a fifth of the company’s market capitalisation of 5.52 billion yuan, and more than 20 times its 2002 earnings of 48.14 million yuan.

An official with the Xinjiang branch of the China Securities Regulatory Commission said the stock market watchdog was now looking into the matter.

“The company found the problem and reported it to us. We’ve notified the local government and will investigate further,” the official said by telephone from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region in China’s remote west.

The government has ordered a series of investigations and detentions as part of a broad crackdown on corporate corruption, which is seen as a threat to social stability. Aishayoufu’s family was not immediately available for comment. Calls to Yao’s mobile phone raised only his voice mail.

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