For years, doors opened for the company. It was given cheap financing from China’s state-backed banks. Its executives had the kind of political connections that private companies in China could only dream of.
During his first state visit to Britain, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, made an appearance at an event in Manchester for HNA’s Hainan Airlines. Mr. Chen was once an aide to Wang Qishan, China’s vice president. Another HNA executive struck a partnership with the son of Wen Jiabao, the former premier of China, The New York Times reported in 2018.
HNA had clout abroad, too. One of its earliest backers was George Soros, the billionaire investor. Its executives mixed with Wall Street’s power brokers at black-tie galas and met with top leaders in Washington. They struck a business deal with Gov. Jeb Bush. They tried to buy Skybridge Capital, an investment firm co-founded by Anthony Scaramucci, who at the time was expecting to become a liaison between the White House and the United States business community. (The deal was abandoned after the companies realized regulators would not approve it.)
But HNA’s glory days became numbered when authorities in China began to scrutinize the enormous debt that HNA and some of its politically connected peers like Anbang Insurance Group, Fosun International and Dalian Wanda were taking on to fuel their global shopping sprees.
The authorities seized control of Anbang, a troubled insurance conglomerate that owned the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, and sentenced its founder, Wu Xiaohui, to prison for 18 years for fraud. Wanda, the one-time owner of AMC Entertainment, and Fosun, which owns Club Med and the luxury fashion house Lanvin, quickly sold off some of their overseas acquisitions.