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Chinese tycoon dies in freak fall in France

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Chinese tycoon Wang Jian , whose sprawling conglomerate HNA Group owns a host of foreign assets , has died after a falling off a wall while sightseeing in southern France , police and his company said Wednesday .

Wang suffered the fatal accident on Tuesday in the picturesque hillside village of Bonnieux after climbing onto a parapet , either to see the view of the valley below or to have his photograph taken , local security sources told AFP .

“ He jumped up on to the wall and was carried over it by his own momentum , ” a source close to the case told AFP on condition of anonymity .

The 57 – year – old businessman , the co -founder of HNA and its second – highest ranking executive , fell into a 10 – metre ( 32 – foot ) void , sustaining serious injuries that emergency services were unable to treat at the site .

“ Together , we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model , whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him , ” his firm said in a statement issued in China .

HNA said Wang , whose personal fortune is estimated at 1 . 7 billion dollars by Forbes magazine , had been visiting Bonnieux during a business trip to France .

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The company started as a small provincial airline servicing China ’ s Hainan Province but has expanded quickly in recent years under the leadership of Wang and business partner Chen Feng.

The firm ’ s $ 230 billion in assets were built up during a foreign buying spree that saw it diversify into tourism and finance via major deals to buy shares in companies including the Hilton hotels group and Deutsche Bank .

It also took stakes in foreign airlines such as Virgin Australia , France ’ s Aigle Azur and TAP in Portugal .

– Corporate turbulence –

But HNA came under pressure last year as Beijing cracked down on the risky debt -fuelled financing that enabled its expansion.

The conglomerate has started selling parts of its empire to pay down its loans , including its Hilton and Deutsche Bank shares, and Wang ’ s death was seen as likely to complicate the unwinding process .

“ Wang ’ s passing will mark the end of an era of aggressive expansion by HNA, ” Corrine Png , chief executive at the Singapore- based research firm Crucial Perspective, told the Bloomberg financial news agency .

“ It will also put HNA Group and related companies ’ restructuring plans back on the drawing board , in our view, ” Png added .

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Warut Promboon , managing partner at credit research firm Bondcritic, told the news agency that Wang’ s death would be a blow because the company “ relies on personal connections , especially with Chinese banks and Chinese government officials . ”

At the end of 2017 , the company reported that its debt was 638 billion yuan ( 81 . 5 billion euros ) , up 36 percent from 2016 .

Wang owned about 15 percent of the Chinese group , making him one of the group ’ s biggest shareholders , Bloomberg reported .

Wang began his career in civil aviation planning in 1983 .

Bonnieux is a mediaeval village in the Provence area of the south of France , a favoured destination for the rich and famous over the peak summer holiday period .

( AFP )

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