Chinese businessman Ji Changqun, 50, is the potential owner of House of Fraser
A secretive Chinese billionaire who has never owned a British business or run a shop has been unmasked as the potential owner of House of Fraser, the Mail can reveal.
Ji Changqun, 50, a Chinese businessman who is worth more than Donald Trump, is the chairman of a controversial investment group, Fullshare Holdings, which is trying to seize control of the department store.
His firm has been accused of manipulating its share price after questions were raised about a number of deals which saw its value rise by more than 1,500 per cent.
Earlier this week, Chinese rival Sanpower, which owns 169-year-old House of Fraser, revealed it was planning to sell 51 per cent of its 89 per cent stake to a leisure firm known as Wuji Wenhua – or Five Seasons Xiv – which is part of Ji’s fast-expanding empire.
Few details have been revealed about what this would mean for the future of House of Fraser, which has been hit by the slowdown on the High Street.
The announcement prompted fears for thousands of jobs, with the lack of transparency in the deal reminiscent of BHS’s sale in 2015 to Dominic Chappell’s Retail Acquisitions, at the time an unknown business.
A department store in Shanghai Earlier this week, Sanpower, which owns 169-year-old House of Fraser, revealed it was planning to sell 51% of its 89% stake to leisure firm Wuji Wenhua
House of Fraser has 59 stores in the UK and Ireland and employs 4,900. The department store chain was founded in 1849 in Glasgow as Arthur And Fraser, a small shop selling textiles.
In 1948 the co-founder’s son, Hugh Fraser III, listed the company on the London Stock Exchange.
No one had heard of Ji Changqun until 2016, when he suddenly burst on the scene to lead a reverse takeover of China High Speed Transmission Equipment, a technology provider for wind power firms.
The £1.16billion deal made Ji’s Fullshare Holdings one of the major players in Asia.
His first venture outside Asia saw him buy an Australian childcare centre. Ji is thought to have worked his way up an engineering firm, Jiasheng Construction Group, before becoming general manager.
Associates describe him as a ‘workaholic’ but health-conscious.
He grows his own fruit and vegetables and takes long walks each morning before work.
However, there are few clues as to how he built the wealth with which he struck his first deals.
House of Fraser fell out of family ownership in 1981 when marketing guru Professor Roland Smith took over as chairman. Since then the retailer has changed ownership various times.
Five Seasons Xiv is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Fullshare Holdings which invests mostly in holiday resorts and healthcare.
The company, which was created following a reverse takeover in 2016, is based in Nanjing in east China.
Ji, who is worth an estimated £3.9billion, became chairman and chief executive after the merger and has more than 25 years in the infrastructure industry.
But last year Fullshare had to suspend trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange when a report accused it of manipulating its share price.
Compiled by US short-sellers Glaucus Research, the report claimed the reverse takeover of Fullshare was ‘one of the largest stock manipulation schemes trading on any exchange anywhere in the world’.
It highlighted how the company’s share price had grown by 1,578 per cent since Ji took the reins without producing profits to match.
Sanpower chairman Yuan Yafei said: ‘Wuji [Five Seasons Xiv] and I are very close, strategic partners. We will support House of Fraser collectively.’