Teflon Tycoon Acquires State Paper Biz

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Qin Hui (˶ÉËæâ) has been called the “big crocodile of the mainland media industry, though he founded his sprawling empire on a simpler form of entertainment. Before Qin sank millions made “stir-frying” stocks into IPTV, telecommunications, movie theatres, newspapers and satellite TV networks like Sun, Qin opened Passion (§©Â±±‰∫∫Èó¥), the night club whose range of services became known far and wide. It was in the parking structure beneath that den of iniquity in Beijing’s Great Wall Sheraton, according to Caijing magazine, that Qin once slipped US$10,000 to Zhang Enzhao, the China Construction Bank ex-chief sentenced last month to 15 years in prison. After the bribery case against Zhang broke last year, Qin was the first businessman authorities hauled in for questioning. He was released within three weeks, but at the trial in October, his name came up again, listed as Zhang’s second biggest source of kickbacks. With Zhang in Qin’s pocket, Caijing reported, one of Qin’s Hong Kong-listed media arms -Strategic Media International (ÊòüÁæéÈõÜÂõ¢) – ran up some 300 million RMB in non-performing loans.

So given all of Qin’s recent troubles, people in the media here are scratching their heads over how Qin managed his latest move. This past week, SMI revealed it had acquired rights to operate the advertising and distribution of the China Business Times (‰∏≠ÂçéÂ∑•ÂïÜÊó∂Êä•), a venerable state-owned newspaper. The All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, one of the paper’s two sponsor institutions, approved the joint venture, announced another SMI-owned paper, Hong Kong’s Sing Pao (ÊàêÊä•). According to a follow-up in Friday’s Oriental Morning Post, SMI agreed to pay a special operational fee worth 20 percent of annual income in exchange for a 51 percent controlling stake good for 20 years.

The tie-up would appear to be another cross-border breakthrough for the Chinese media. It also represents a marriage of convenience. To Qin, China Business Times offers a central government media platform with a legitimate brand. In turn, SMI hopes to inject life back into the paper, which has long since lost the market position and muckraking cache it had in the early 1990’s. Back then, its corps of journalists boasted such names as Hu Shuli and He Li, before they went on to found Caijing magazine and the Economic Observer, respectively.

Now the paper has joined a sisterhood of SMI papers that include Shanghai’s Qiao Bao (‰æ®Êä•) along with Sing Pao, a colorful broadsheet known for its close ties to Hong Kong officialdom. Sing Pao beamed: “Whether through news exchange or business interaction, Hong Kong’s Sing Pao and Beijing’s China Business Times will see the brand-new development of cross-border cooperation. At the same time, through the pages of these two papers, the people of Beijing and Hong Kong can get the latest news about economy, policy and life in the cities, which will allow the two places to deepen their mutual understanding and communication interactively.”

How does Qin Hui keep at it? For some time, that’s been the big mystery in the Chinese press. Besides his web of banking and business connections, the Sichuan native, still only 38 years old, has been linked romantically to the daughter of a top state leader and to the actress Li Jiaxin, arm charm to many a billionaire (link here or here or here).

Just last year, in fact, a big Caijing expose left Qin Hui for dead. The title of the story: “The veil of high-level background and underworld links is removed; Qin Hui’s legend finally comes to an end.” Instead Caijing apparently has since removed the story from its Web site, a journalist there said. “Our headline back then was indeed kinda presumptious,” he conceded. “The guy did come back after all.”

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