The historic Waldorf Astoria hotel will soon be owned by a Chinese insurance company called Anbang Insurance Group.
The sale was controversial. There were reports that Anbang benefited from its connections to the Chinese regime, and that the U.S. government was investigating the pending sale over security risks for dignitaries who often stay at the 47-story hotel.
But on Feb. 1 the sale went through. The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment approved the $1.95 billion sale. Its previous owner, Hilton Worldwide, will continue managing the hotel for the next 100 years.
In a phone call a representative from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment declined to comment, on grounds the department cannot legally disclose information on cases to the public.
Epoch Times was the first publication to sound the warning bell over the potential sale of the Waldorf to Anbang.
There is plenty of reason for controversy. The chairman of Anbang, Wu Xiaohui, is the grandson-in-law of the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping.
One of the Anbang’s consultants is Chen Xiaolu, founder of the Red Guard Police Corps during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, who admitted in October 2013 he had been part of the torture and persecution of teachers. His father was one of the communist regime’s founding generals.
China’s Southern Weekend had reported on Jan. 29 that Chen owned 51 percent of Anbang. The paper apologized after Chen denied the reports, saying he did not own shares in Anbang. Chen’s denial did not address the main accusation, however, which said his ownership wasn’t through direct shares, but instead through his shares in three private companies tied to Anbang.
Among Anbang’s key shareholders are the state-owned Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. and China Petrochemical Corp. The Chinese regime often veils its control of companies by ensuring top shareholders are state-owned.
A report from the U.S. State Department in 2012 warned that the Chinese regime often uses hotels as chokepoints for espionage. It said that in Chinese hotel rooms “All means of communication—telephones, mobile phones, faxes, e-mails, text messages, and more—are likely monitored.”
“All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to onsite or remote technical monitoring at all times,” the report states, in a warning about security risks in China.
Anbang announced the Waldorf would “undergo a major renovation,” after the acquisition.
Officials announced in mid-October they were investigating the deal for any potential security risks.
“We are currently in the process of reviewing the details of the sale and the company’s long-term plans for the facility,” said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, AP reported.
It notes that for more than 50 years, the State Department has leased a room on the Waldorf’s 42nd floor for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Also, every September it rents two floors of the Waldorf to serve as headquarters for U.S. diplomats attending the U.N. General Assembly.
A top official with Anbang claims the acquisition is purely about business. He was quoted broadly across Chinese-language media.
Christopher J. Nassetta, president and chief executive officer, Hilton Worldwide, said in an October 2014 press release, “This relationship represents a unique opportunity for our organizations to work together to finally maximize the full value of this iconic asset on a full city block in midtown Manhattan.”
Additional reporting by Frank Fang.