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China Life untroubled by national audit office review
( 2004-02-03 14:01) (Agencies)

China Life Insurance Co. said Monday it is free from any financial irregularities, after China's National Audit Office uncovered violations in some state firms.

"There are no legal issues facing us. It's safe to say our assets are of good quality and our liabilities are clear," a company investor relations official told Dow Jones Newswires in a telephone interview. "There is some market confusion."

The Hong Kong- and New York-listed life insurance giant will soon issue a legal notice to the Hong Kong stock exchange to clarify the matter, he added.

His comments came after the National Audit Office said Friday it found irregularities at Industrial & Commercial Bank of China during its review of government finances last year, including false documentation for loans and lending losses. ICBC is one of China's four largest state-owned banks.

The office also said China Life Insurance was included in its review. However, the audit office didn't specify if it was referring to the listed vehicle.

The state-owned CCTV.com reported the audit office found the rule breaches at ICBC and China Life involved a total of 35 billionyuan. It didn't elaborate.

Monday, shares in China Life sank 5.3% to HK$5.4 in heavy trade worth HK$1.12 billion. It was the second most actively traded and the most heavily short-sold stock.

The China Life official clarified that the audit focused only on the 2002 financial statements of "the old China Life Insurance" which existed prior to a restructuring ahead of its US$3.46 billion initial public offering late last year.

In that unique pre-IPO restructuring, China Life was able to carve out and list only the healthier assets overseas. A new company was set up on June 30, 2003 for the IPO.

"China Life and its management team have gone through a stringent due diligence investigation process in connection with the restructuring," he said. "The plan of restructuring has also gained prior approval of the competent government authorities."

Out of the approximately CNY35 billion in financial irregularities reported by the press, only about CNY4.91 billion was associated with the former company's old business, another China Life official said.

The irregular practices at the pre-restructured company involved illegal agencies, fraudulent claims on policy lapses and other investment-related issues, the first official said. These happened in 1992-93, 1995, 1998 and 2000- 01. Some of the losses have already been recovered.

The 2003 financial statement of the post-restructured, listed company, now China's largest life insurer with a 45% market share, will be published in March.

"Therefore, all the problems found in the audit have no relation with the listed company," the official said.

The audit office check is "only a routine, regular check conducted every year" on Chinese state-owned enterprises, he added.

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