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2016.07.29 Fri, by
Taikang Life is now largest shareholder in Sotheby’s

News has broken that as of Wednesday, Taikang Life Insurance Co. has an active stake of 13.52% in Sotheby’s auction house. This is the largest stake held by any single shareholder, and the second of two Asian owners of the company. The other, Shanda Payment Holdings Ltd. (Singapore) currently holds a 2% share which it reputedly wants to increase. The next largest share after Taikang Life is 11.4% owned by Dan Loeb, founder and chief executive of Third Point LLC, a New York-based hedge fund. Taikang Life, China’s fourth largest insurance company, says it paid $230 million USD for 8 million shares in Sotheby’s on the open market during June and July. According to Bloomberg, Sotheby’s has a market capitalization of $1.84 billion USD.

Chen Dongsheng, chairman and CEO of Taikang Life, is also the founder (in 1993) and president of the second largest auction house in the country, China Guardian, and deputy chairman of China Auction Association (CAA). China Guardian expanded its operations in 2012 to hold its first Hong Kong sale, and recorded over $550 million in revenue in 2015. Chen and his wife Kong Dongmei, Mao Zedong’s granddaughter, were ranked 242nd on a rich list compiled in 2013 by Chinese financial magazine New Fortune. He is also behind Taikang Space in Beijing, a non-profit organization established in 2003 as part of Taikang Life Insurance’s Department of Public Welfare Establishments. Following his donation of 100 million RMB and 30 million RMB worth of art works to Wuhan University to build Wanlin Art Museum in 2011, Chen was named a “power patron” by American magazine Art and Auction.

Less favorably, Chen has also attracted attention as part of the so-called Panama Papers leak earlier this year, which names him among those who have used shell companies to mask international financial dealings with the help of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, a prime facilitator of offshore tax havens globally. It was revealed that in 2011, Chen used Mossack Fonseca to register Keen Best International Limited in the British Virgin Islands, of which he is the sole director and shareholder.

Sources: Bloomberg News, Artnet, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Wall Street Journal.

Chen Dongsheng at a conference in Beijing in 2011. Photo: Bloomberg News

Chen Dongsheng at a conference in Beijing in 2011. Photo: Bloomberg News