China government funds misused to buy French vineyards, say officials

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Chinese state-owned Haichang Group has been accused of wrongly diverting government money to buy Bordeaux vineyards, as part of an investigation by China’s National Audit Office.

Image: Liu Jiayi, General Auditor of NAO © www.audit.gov.cn

In the annual report issued by the Audit Office, Haichang and another Dalian-based company, Rave Sun group, were named as having used CNY268m (£25.3m) of government funds to buy 14 French chateaux.

The money, which was allocated by the Dalian government in Liaoning province, was originally intended to help the firms to invest in high-tech companies overseas, says the report.

Auditors referred to more than 300 instances of suspected abuse of state funds across a variety of business sectors. It is unclear what action may be taken, but the emergence of the report suggests that the Chinese government’s anti-corruption drive is increasingly focused on investments by state-owned entities, as well as the entertainment budgets of individual officials.

State-owned Haichang is currently the biggest Chinese chateau owner in Bordeaux. It owns around 10 estates, including Millaud Montlabert, Branda and Chenu Lafittel. The group also owns vineyards in the city of Dalian.

DecanterChina.com reported in June 2013 that three Bordeaux chateaux bought by Haichang in the previous two years were back on the market. The three chateaux were Villepreux in Beychac-et-Caillau, Grand Branet in Capian and Baby in Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux.

Another chateau owned by Haichang, Chateau L’Enclos, was this week being advertised for sale on the website of Bordeaux and Beyond.

‘I never understood the logic of these transactions,’ Alexander Hall, director of Vineyard Intelligence, told DecanterChina.com on the Haichang purchases. ‘There didn't seem to be any strategy behind the acquisitions and the properties themselves were for the most part obscure brands with little obvious rationale from a viticultural or commercial perspective. The only common thread was that most of the properties had impressive chateaux.’

‘This (pattern of purchases) contrasts with other Chinese acquisitions,’ said Hall, ‘such as De Viaud, Loudenne, de la Riviere [and] Lagarosse, which, although perhaps not first tier Bordeaux estates, are nevertheless recognised names within their respective appellations.’

Bordeaux and Beyond, the local agent currently taking care of the sale of the Chinese group, wasn’t immediately available to comment on the sale process for the Haichang estates.

The other Dalian-based company accused for diverting government funds, Rave Sun group, owns Chateau Les Brettes in St Emilion and French wine export company Brillar Negoce.

(Additional report by Jane Anson)

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