In what looks like the exact legal definition of a criminal conspiracy, the CFO of "China's Urban Footwear Company" Ultrasonic has informed the public and the firm's Supervisory Board that its CEO and COO have "apparently left their homes and are not traceable." Also: The money's gone.
More specifically, these vanishing gentleman are the CEO and COO of Ultrasonic AG, the German-based holding company of the Chinese shoe manufacturer, incorporated in 2011 so that the firm could have its IPO on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Their corporate structure is actually quite complex.
Ultrasonic AG's CFO, Chi Kwong Clifford Chan, told the board yesterday that the company's CEO, Qingyong Wu, and COO, Minghong Wu, had become unreachable over the weekend—and that the firm's accountants had informed him that the majority of Ultrasonic's cash in the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong had been transferred, somewhere, "being no longer in the company's range of influence." A six-figure amount remains within their German holding company, which Chan says will be enough to cover the company's basic obligations for now.
What everyone at Ultrasonic is primarily freaking out about, however, is the fate of the company's $60 million credit facility (a kind of loan usually pursued by companies after equity financing, like a stock deal), valued at $29.5 million; Some anonymous bank officials told Reuters that the available credit is among the missing funds. Their sources say that the brokerage that issued the loan, Nomura International (Hong Kong) Ltd., plans to have a super awkward conference call with its backers tomorrow.
Obviously, the stock dropped, tanked really, with shares falling 79.3 percent after the announcement, to less than a sixth of what it was worth when it first became listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
The New York Post, true to their politics, but also the BBC, made a point of tying this weird little story to the broader issue of corruption in communist China's unusual state-run business culture. As Reuters reported, another German-listed Chinese company, Youbisheng Green Paper, had its CEO vanish earlier this year without explanation. In July, Chinese men's apparel firm, Fujian Nuoqi, dropped 33 percent in stock price mysteriously, only to report the following month that its chairman, Ding Hui, was missing—after supposedly also benefiting from a large unpaid line of company credit. Then there was the recent case of Tianhe Chemicals, which was allegedly targeted by the hacker group Anonymous—for whatever that's worth in a shadowy case like this—who broadcast accusations that the company had falsified financial statements.
But why not blame the Germans a little bit for this too? As Brown University political economist Mark Blyth, the author of Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, never tires of pointing out, Germany (the EU's ostensibly fiscally responsible economic powerhouse) has about half a trillion in debt that it basically ignores while using its clout to pressure fellow EU nations like Greece into crippling government spending cuts. As a country, they're no stranger to debt-based financial shenanigans. It's hard to really know who's to blame in these complex cases of global corporate malfeasance; So, why not broaden the suspect pool, just in case?
Qingyong and Minghong Wu are probably both culpable, but maybe there's some mysterious investor in Luxembourg, or somewhere, who's also on the take. Or, the case may wind up resembling 2010's Alfred L. Wolff "honey trap" scam—to date the largest food fraud case in U.S. history—in which that German firm was caught purchasing fifty-gallon drums of Chinese honey and sneaking it past U.S. tariffs by swapping the labels in neighboring countries, like Thailand, South Korea, and the Philippines. Or, the time last year when a Chinese solar company was conned into an $600 million equity stake in a loan backed by fake German government bonds, by the German-based Global Solar Fund. These cases simply tend to be more complex than simply blaming China's corrupt CPC politicians, or leaning on vague Western stereotypes of a shifty, untrustworthy Orient, is all.
But enough business, am I right? Let's look at these shoes!
[photos via Ultrasonic]