Chinese real estate firm loses $5 billion in value

Billions of dollars were wiped off the value of a Shanghai real estate empire this week after its founder was detained by Chinese police, reportedly on suspicion of child molestation.

Billionaire Wang Zhenhua, who founded Future Land Development Holdings in 1996, was detained earlier this week on suspicion of having molested a minor in a Shanghai hotel, Chinese state media reported.

Future Land, which is known in China by the name of its subsidiary Seazen Holdings, issued an open letter in Chinese Friday in which it apologized for its founder’s reported behavior and the “great suffering” he had caused the alleged victim and her family.

“We are deeply troubled, shocked and upset about the fact that it is our company’s founder who caused this storm,” the company said. “We, as well as the public, think juveniles are the future of society, and any behavior that harms them should be punished by the law.”

Shanghai police said in a statement Wednesday that they had detained a 57-year-old man, identified only by the surname Wang, for alleged child molestation in a local hotel. The police are continuing to investigate but would not comment beyond what was in their statement.

“At 9 p.m. on July 3, Shanghai police issued a briefing on its official Weibo account. From that, it has been confirmed by the police that Wang Zhenhua, the de facto controller of Seazen Holdings, is suspected of molesting a girl,” a Chinese state-run news agency reported on Thursday. CNN has been unable to contact a representative for Wang.

Future Land said in a stock exchange filing on Wednesday that it had removed Wang as chairman after the company was told by Shanghai authorities that he was being held in criminal custody for “personal reasons.”

Its shares plunged by 36% on the Hong Kong stock exchange over the course of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, while shares in S-Enjoy Service Group — a property management company in which Wang has a 73% stake — crashed 41% over the same period.

The stock of Seazen Holdings plunged 10% on Thursday and Friday each, the maximum daily move allowed on the Shanghai stock exchange.

The crash wiped about $5.4 billion off the value of the three companies combined, according to Refinitiv data.

Global credit ratings agencies warned on Friday that Wang’s detention could damage the real estate group’s standing with partners, investors, financial institutions and potential customers.

“In our view, the seriousness of the allegation and sudden change in leadership could have severe repercussions for Future Land’s reputation and brand name,” S&P Global Ratings said in a statement.

Analysts at Nomura and Goldman Sachs slashed their target prices for Future Land stock on Friday, citing risks relating to the change in chairman.

Two girls were brought to Wang Zhenhua in a hotel in Shanghai on June 29, according to Xinmin Evening News, a local newspaper run by state-owned Shanghai United Media Group. The mother of one of them reported the alleged crime to the police, the newspaper reported.

Other Chinese media, i ncluding state-run English language newspaper China Daily and premier business publication Caixin, have since identified the man arrested by police as the real estate tycoon.

Future Land, Seazen and S-Enjoy have not responded to repeated requests for additional comment.

S-Enjoy acknowledged Wang’s detention in a stock exchange filing on Wednesday but said it was not related to the company’s operations, which “remain normal.”

The Seazen website has been updated to remove Wang from its management team lineup. His place as chairman has been taken by his son, Wang Xiaosong.

The fallout from Wang’s detention has already resulted in a significant financial hit to his personal fortune, which has shrunk $1.5 billion in the last two days, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Wang is now worth around $5 billion.

Lily Lee and Yong Xiong in Beijing contributed to this article.