What's in a Name? A Lot If It Links a Billionaire to China's Xi

(Bloomberg) -- China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. has used a stock exchange filing to try and quash rumors its billionaire owner’s success is tied to political connections.

In a disclosure statement made to the Hong Kong bourse dated Monday, Geely revealed details of the holdings of its chairman and top investor Li Shufu, who has made a spate of eye-catching global autos investments over the past decade. While the scope of Li’s investment in the Hangzhou-based carmaker was well known, the name of his wife wasn’t.

Listed as a joint holder of 4.9 million Geely shares is “Ms Li Wang, wife of Li Shu Fu.” Up until now, various websites -- and Wikipedia -- had given the name of Li’s spouse as Peng Lijuan. That’s similar enough to the name of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife, Peng Liyuan, to have spurred speculation that Li, the largest shareholder in Daimler AG and the owner of Volvo Cars, is related to Xi through marriage.

Revealing Li’s wife’s name in the filing was intentional.

“We are trying to correct the rumors that Li Shufu’s wife is President Xi’s sister-in-law,” a Geely spokesman told Bloomberg News Wednesday.

A Google search for “Li Shufu wife” throws up results including a Financial Times article from March on how important political links, known as “guanxi” in China, are to the country’s tycoons. The newspaper notes the scuttlebutt around Li’s wife’s name and how it has led “many to assume that Mr Li is married to President Xi’s sister-in-law.”

Li has built a global carmaking empire over the past two decades, securing stakes in European legacy brands from Daimler to Lotus as well as majority investments in Malaysian auto company Proton.

In the Oct. 15 filing, Geely said Li owned 3.99 billion shares, equivalent to 44.47 percent of the Hong Kong-listed carmaker.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.