19:02 GMT +322 October 2018
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    Wang Jian (pictured), who reportedly fell to his death in France while taking a photograph

    Was Chinese Billionaire's Death in South of France Really Just Selfie Accident?

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    The CEO of one of China’s biggest companies has died in the south of France after reportedly falling from a wall while taking photographs. Sputnik wonders if Wang Jian’s death could turn out to be something more sinister.

    Wang Jian was the co-founder of HNA, which began as a regional airline and became one of China's biggest conglomerates.

    Mr. Wang, 57, was found dead on Tuesday, July 3, after suffering "severe injuries" in a fall in Provence in south-eastern France.

    Reports suggest he fell 10 feet from a wall while taking photographs of a cliffside church in the town of Bonnieux.

    ​In February, Bloomberg reported that Mr. Wang made a speech in which he claimed his company and others were coming under attack from "reactionary forces from both China and overseas countering China's rise."

    'Evil Motives' 

    "We are carrying out a great transformation; we are realizing the great dreams of the Secretary General [Xi Jinping]. They want to disrupt the entire Chinese economy, then disrupt HNA, leading to social unrest, subverting the entire 19th Party Congress, China's 'Belt and Road' initiative and the planning for further, deeper reform. This is their conspiracy, these are their evil motives, and they've been plotting for a long time," Mr. Wang told his company's employees, urging them to remain strong.

    HNA Group, which operates China's fourth-largest airline, posted a message on its website confirming Mr. Wang's death.  

    ​"HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang's family and many friends. Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy," said the company's co-founder Chen Feng and CEO Adam Tan.

    Conspiracy theories soon began circulating on China's most famous social media site, Weibo, but were soon shot down by a commander of the local gendarmerie in Bonnieux.

    ​"He stood on the edge of a sharp drop to get his family to take a picture of him and fell. Witness accounts point to a likely accident." Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Meriaux, of the Vaucluse gendarmerie, told Reuters.

    Gendarmerie Await Autopsy

    Lt. Col. Meriaux said an autopsy would determine the exact cause of death.

    Wang owned 15 percent of the shares in HNA, making him one of the richest men in China.

    HNA was founded in 1989 and found great success in the 1990s with Hainan Airlines, which flew millions of Chinese tourists from Beijing to the holiday island of Hainan in southern China.

    It later diversified into hotels — buying 25 percent of Hilton Worldwide — logistics and finance companies.

    ​In the last 18 months it bought UDC Finance, one of the biggest lenders in New Zealand, for $ 660million, shares in airports in Germany and Brazil, spent $10 billion on an aircraft leasing business and also snapped up a New York skyscraper, 245 Park Avenue, for a cool $2.2 billion.

    In February last year HNA also bought a three percent stake in Deutsche Bank.

    ​These deals have racked up mountains of debt but HNA Group has denied it is in financial difficulties.

    HNA has been selling some assets and in April announced it planned to sell some of its $6.5 billion stake in Hilton and had already sold a $1 billion share in Hilton Grand Vacations Inc.

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    Xi Jinping, Southern France, China, France
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