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SOE Overseas Listing Unlikely to Be Halted by US Security Probe

A United States security probe into a Chinese insurance firm is unlikely to halt the overseas listing of China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs), said a partner of Price Waterhouse Coopers in Beijing Tuesday.

China Life Insurance Co., Ltd. was listed on the New York and Hong Kong stock markets last December and is reportedly under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission due to the accounting irregularities of its parent company.

"The probe will have little impact. Initial public offering (IPO) in China will still be a dynamic market. The regulatory body here is making great efforts according to international guidelines," said Machael Harries, a Beijing-based partner of the prestigious accounting firm.

With a 3.4 billion US$s IPO, the world's largest last year, China Life has become a model for big SOEs seeking overseas listing.

It was, however, hit by falling share prices and questions after China's National Audit Office announced on Feb. 4 the accounting irregularities of China Life Insurance Company, involving 5.4 billion yuan (US$652 million) during a routine audit which was undergoing at the moment of IPO.

After a US class action lawsuit last month alleging the company failed to disclose details of the government audit in its IPO, China Life was reportedly undergoing an informal probe by the SEC and Hong Kong's security watchdog.

A senior company official said Monday that China Life has not received any notice from the SEC yet, and will cooperate with the inquiry if it does.

"If not well handled, this issue will poison future IPOs of other Chinese enterprises," said Luo Hai, partner of the Global Law Office, a Beijing-based international law firm.

Alex Zhao, executive director of the Investment Banking Department of China International Capital Cooperation Limited, one of China Life's IPO underwriters, refused to comment. However, he said other enterprises seeking overseas listing should communicate better with foreign investors. He suggested more detailed research reports to explain the China context to the investors.

"Chinese enterprises needs to rebuild overseas investors' confidence. The probe indicates a warning that they have to abide by the rules if they want to play the game," Luo said, adding, "in this sense, China Life has served as a landmark for Chinese financial reform."
(Xinhua News Agency April 7, 2004)

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