HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong regulators said Thursday they're investigating a leading Chinese solar panel maker owned by billionaire Li Hejun after its shares took a sudden and unexplained plunge.
The Securities and Futures Commission normally does not announce its investigations but released a statement after Li said there was no investigation in a video interview posted online Wednesday by Chinese state media.
"A formal investigation into the affairs of Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Ltd. has been active and is continuing," the commission said in a brief statement. The market watchdog said it was disclosing the investigation "given the public interest following reports denying such measures have been taken."
Shares in Hanergy Thin Film, which is a unit of Beijing-based Hanergy Holding Group, had more than doubled since the start of the year, making Li one of China's richest people with a fortune estimated at $20 billion. On May 20 they plunged by half in the first hour of trading before being suspended and remain frozen.
Li said in the interview that reports of the investigation are "purely a rumor, absolutely impossible."
He also appeared to address media reports about the company's loans, saying "Hanergy has never failed to repay principal or interest owed to banks."
Globally, the solar panel industry has been through a financial crunch after prices of panels plunged because of oversupply.
Hong Kong's financial community was gripped last week by episodes of mysterious whipsaw stock trading. A day after Hanergy's tumble, two other companies controlled by another Chinese billionaire suffered plunges in their stock prices for no apparent reason before rebounding in the following days.
Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.