Qu Naijie, the founder of Chinese conglomerate Haichang Group, is to stand trial for allegedly misappropriating €32 million of Chinese state fund that was earmarked for investing in technology to buy 25 chateaux in Bordeaux.
The 63-year-old Qu became a target of French investigations after Chinese authorities at National Audit Office (NAO) named his company Haichang Group for embezzling RMB 268 million of public funds to buy chateaux in 2014.
The French authorities at Direction Interregionale de la Police Judiciare in Bordeaux then opened a criminal investigation into Haichang’s dealings in France. The investigations led to seizure of 10 chateaux owned by Haichang Group in 2018 on suspicions of money laundering and tax fraud.
A recluse and fiercely private entrepreneur, Qu built his fortune from oil trading in his hometown and China’s port city Dalian. His business then quickly expanded into real estate, property development, theme park and shipping, but Qu always had a soft spot for wine.
He imported Bordeaux’s famous wine and dine festival to his hometown Dalian and planted hundreds of acres of Bordeaux vines in the port city.
His thirst for wine then led him into a buying spree in Bordeaux between 2010 and 2013. During these years, he bought over 20 Bordeaux estates at the height of massive Chinese investments in the region led by billionaire Jack Ma, Pan Shutong and movie star Zhao Wei. Known to many Bordelais as “Mr Dalian,” he has come to epitomize the outpouring of Chinese money in Bordeaux.
Qu’s buying spree however halted in 2016 after he was arrested on suspicion of corporate bribery, according to Chinese media reports. The charges were withdrawn by the end of 2020. He has since barely been seen in public.
Qu is still listed on Haichang Group, and serves as Chairman, Executive Director and CEO of Haichang Ocean Park Holding, a publicly listed company in Hong Kong valued at over HK$925 million.
The Chinese billionaire denied all allegations of misconduct. Exco Ecaf, an accounting firm formerly headed by Pierre Goguet, chairman of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, is also charged as an accessory in the case.