Anbang’s real estate head resigns – Exclusive

Theo Cheng is leaving the Chinese insurance group at a time of continuing scrutiny on its overseas investment portfolio.  

Theo Cheng, head of real estate, global investment, at one of China’s most high-profile cross border investors, Anbang Insurance Group, is leaving the firm.

Cheng, who joined Anbang from Macquarie Capital, is currently on gardening leave, PERE has learned from industry sources familiar with the situation.

He was responsible for the insurer’s real estate and real estate-related investment activities, with a focus on overseas investments.

The move comes at a tumultuous time for the Chinese insurer which saw the suspension of Anbang’s group chairman Wu Xiaohui in June, leaving the insurer to be effectively run by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

According to media reports, Xiaohui, who orchestrated Anbang’s meteoric rise as one of China’s top outbound real estate investors, was detained by Chinese investigators for questioning. His whereabouts remain unknown.

The insurer also had to refute a Bloomberg story published in early August that claimed Chinese authorities instructed Anbang to sell all its overseas assets. Anbang has insisted that the group’s various businesses and operations are normal, and that it has ample cash and sufficient solvency capabilities.

Yet a crackdown on capital outflows by Chinese regulators since late last year, and scrutiny on Anbang’s ownership and financing, has forced the insurer to pause its overseas investments. The insurer had reached exclusivity on some real estate transactions this year, but none of those transactions materialized, according to one source.

China’s capital controls have led to a sizeable drop in the overseas investment activity of all mainland Chinese institutional investors, developers, and private net-worth-investors. According to property services firm JLL, there was a 82.1 percent drop in outbound property investments by the Chinese in the first half of this year.