New ‘Red Roulette’ Brief Says China Kidnapped Billionaire
(Bloomberg) – Desmond Shum said he hadn’t heard a glance from his ex-wife, Whitney Duan, since she hadn’t shown up at the grand opening of his luxurious Bulgari hotel in Beijing in 2017.
For four long years, Shum didn’t know where she was, or even if she was alive. She had made a fortune by making deals with the elites of the Communist Party; Shum suspected that she had been detained by government investigators. But after Shum wrote a memoir denouncing the system that could detain his ex-wife without consequence, he finally heard about her.
Days before the book’s September 7 release, Duan called with a message: If he published his manuscript, the consequences could be dire. She was on bail, she said. The charges against her were confidential and she could be returned to detention at any time.
But “Red Roulette,” Shum’s insider account of business and politics in China from Xi Jinping, was already in various stages of distribution. Its story is particularly timely, as Communist leaders have begun to reassert their control over the private sector.
“Right now, every private entrepreneur is faced with a huge question: where does Xi Jinping want to take China? Shum said during a video call. “If you’re investing in China right now, you’re not playing a game that you understand. The game has completely changed.
His missing ex-wife, one of the oldest traders in China, is an extreme case of the pressure currently facing the rich and powerful in the country. Jack Ma went into hiding for months after the government dismantled its planned IPO following his criticism of outdated regulatory practices. Meituan’s Wang Xing was recently warned to stay out of the spotlight after posting a controversial social media post.
Shum reports that Duan lived by the motto: “If you took my corpse out of my coffin and whipped it, you still wouldn’t find dirt.” At the same time, he doesn’t hesitate to say that they operated in a twisted system and that they got rich doing it.
Duan has made his career connecting political elites with economic opportunities. In one case, she bought shares in Ping An Insurance, co-investing with relatives of former Premier Wen Jiabao, and cashed in after gains in 2007, according to the book. The New York Times detailed his relationship with the Wen family, and in particular Wen’s wife, who had a fondness for diamonds, in 2012.
Shum and Duan’s wealth grew to include interests in real estate, like the Beijing Airport City project, owned through their group, Great Ocean. Duan was also involved in the purchase of a condo in a skinny high-rise near Central Park at 432 Park Avenue; the unit is now facing foreclosure.
Shum documents the rise of the couple. He visited a $ 100 million yacht with Evergrande founder Hui Ka Yan. He remembers asking a young mother for a business plan; the future founder of Alibaba laughed at him.
Shum and his co-author, journalist John Pomfret, delve into the intrigue of Shum’s life among the powerful in Beijing. He played high stakes card games on a private jet. A naval officer offered battleships to smuggle beer. A party leader’s son-in-law once told him that prison had become almost a right of passage for business leaders, like going to military school.
Shum began to notice a trend in the disappearance of ambitious executives, starting with Li Peiying, the Beijing airport chief who also led Shum’s joint venture airport project. Li, who arranged for the Chinese party heavyweights when they landed in Beijing, was convicted of bribery and executed.
Former member of the CPPCC, China’s political advisory body, Shum said his views on China began to deteriorate in 2008 when the party began to regain control of the economy, media, and society. Internet and education system. Party committees were forced into private companies, including his own.
He says the system ultimately serves the interests of Chinese “princes”, descendants of the original Communist revolutionaries. This group includes Xi, whose father was a senior party official under Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Harsh punishments, he says, are reserved for “commoners” without a revolutionary pedigree like Duan.
Now living in England with his 12-year-old son, Shum fears his ex-wife’s phone call is a sign that he and his family may still be vulnerable to retaliation. He and Duan were willing gamblers in the “new China roulette-style political environment,” he writes, and not innocent passers-by.
Yet her story is a rare alternative to China’s tightly controlled and state-sponsored narratives. In his book, Shum asks an urgent question: “What kind of system allows for extralegal kidnappings of the kind that happened to Whitney Duan?” “
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