HONG KONG — HNA, the heavily indebted Chinese conglomerate, will transfer a minority stake owned by its recently deceased co-chairman to a Chinese charity, a move that is unlikely to help answer questions about who controls the company.
HNA said on Friday it would transfer the 15 percent stake owned by Wang Jian, a co-founder and co-chairman of the company, to Hainan Province Cihang Foundation. The transaction would bring the Hainan-based charity’s ownership of HNA to 38 percent. Mr. Wang, who fell to his death last week, had previously pledged to give his stake to the charity, the company said.
The transaction puts HNA firmly in control of two charitable trusts that will own two-thirds of the company: the Hainan-based charity and a private foundation in New York called the Hainan Cihang Charity Foundation. Another 15 percent is held by Chen Feng, the company’s chairman and a co-founder, while the remaining shares are held by other senior HNA executives.
The transfer is likely to cast further doubt on HNA’s murky ownership, which has forced some Wall Street banks to stop doing business with it and drawn scrutiny from regulators in Europe and the United States. HNA has disclosed little about the trusts, such as who oversees the Chinese charity.
The unexpected death of HNA’s second most senior executive came at a turbulent time for HNA. It is struggling with more the $90 billion of debt after a big overseas buying spree that included trophy properties and logistics companies and large stakes in publicly listed companies like Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Deutsche Bank.
Its appetite was so great that it made more than 123 deals overseas over a span of three years. HNA has since started to pare back its investments and is selling off some of its prized properties overseas.
HNA has said its New York charity will donate up to $200 million over the next five years and has pledged money to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not applied for tax-exempt status, something which many charities do in order to allow for more resources for donations.
Philipp Rösler, the former chairman of Germany’s Free Democratic Party, is the chief executive officer of the New York charity. An HNA spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about the Chinese charity.
Regulators began to raise questions about HNA’s ownership as it scooped up dozens of big companies overseas. In the United States, this scrutiny deepened early last year when HNA announced plans to buy the hedge fund firm owned by Anthony Scaramucci, who was the communications director for the White House at the time.
That deal failed to get the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an intergovernmental panel that reviews overseas acquisitions of American companies.
HNA also caused confusion about its ownership last summer when it transferred a 29.5 percent stake of the company owned by a man named Guan Jun to its private foundation in New York. Adam Tan, HNA’s chief executive, told reporters that Mr. Guan had never owned the shares at all and that he was holding the stake on behalf of HNA.
Mr. Wang, 57, died while sightseeing in the southern French town of Bonnieux, a village with a church atop a rocky outcropping. He had climbed a wall to take a picture when “he fell backward, 10 or 15 meters,” according to the French police, who said they were treating the death as an accident.
HNA said he had been traveling in France for a business trip.
Cao Li contributed to research