Mystery of $2bn of loans backed by fake gold in China

Nikkei Asian Review:

“… 83 tons of gold bars used as [loan] collateral turned out to be nothing but gilded copper.”

More than a dozen Chinese financial institutions, mainly trust companies, loaned 20 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) over the past five years to Wuhan Kingold Jewelry Inc. with pure gold as collateral and insurance policies to cover any losses.

Kingold is the largest privately owned gold processor in central China’s Hubei province. Its shares are listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York. The company is led by Chairman Jia Zhihong, an intimidating ex-military man who is the controlling shareholder.

What could go wrong?

Well, plenty, as at least some of 83 tons of gold bars used as collateral turned out to be nothing but gilded copper. That has left lenders holding the bag for the remaining 16 billion yuan of loans outstanding against the bogus bars. The loans were covered by 30 billion yuan of property insurance policies issued by state insurer PICC Property and Casualty Co. Ltd. (PICC P&C) and other smaller insurers.

The fake gold came to light in February when Dongguan Trust Co. Ltd. set out to liquidate Kingold collateral to cover defaulted debts. In late 2019 Kingold failed to repay investors in several trust products. Dongguan Trust said it discovered that the gleaming gold bars were actually gilded copper alloy.

The news sent shock waves through Kingold’s creditors. China Minsheng Trust Co. Ltd., one of Kingold’s largest creditors, obtained a court order to test collateral before Kingold’s debts came due. On May 22, the test result returned saying the bars sealed in Minsheng Trust’s coffers are also copper alloy.

Authorities are investigating how this happened. Kingold chief Jia flatly denies that anything is wrong with the collateral his company put up.

The case holds echoes of China’s largest gold-loan fraud case, unfolding since 2016 in the northwest Shaanxi province and neighboring Hunan. Regulators found adulterated gold bars in 19 lenders’ coffers backing 19 billion yuan of loans. In one case, a lender seeking to melt gold collateral found black tungsten plate in the middle of the bars.

More at Nikkei Asian Review

Buy on Amazon!