Self-proclaimed members of the computer hacking group released a 38-page “Anonymous Analytics” report on Tuesday alleging that Chaoda Modern Agriculture, one of China’s biggest vegetable producers, had falsified its financial statements and swindled investors.
Chaoda, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange with a market capitalisation of $460m, is one of dozens of Chinese companies that have been accused of fraud in recent months, often by short-sellers seeking to profit from a decline in their shares. China Forestry, a Chinese forestry company listed in Hong Kong, and Sino-Forest, its rival listed in Toronto, have also had their shares suspended from trading this year as regulators have probed their financial statements.
In its report, Anonymous alleged that management have funnelled more than $400m out of Chaoda “under the cover of inflated capex spending and related party transactions”, having raised more than $1.1bn from investors since its initial public offering in 2000.
On Monday, before Anonymous published its report, Hong Kong’s government said it was investigating Chaoda, prompting its shares to tumble by 26 per cent before they were suspended from trading. Chaoda’s shares have lost three-quarters of their value since late May, when Next Magazine, a Chinese-language magazine in Hong Kong, accused it of overstating its holdings of farmland.
A spokesman for Chaoda, which disputed the Next report, declined to comment on either the allegations by Anonymous or the Hong Kong government investigation, saying the company would release a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange in due course.
Anonymous and its temporary offshoot LulzSec have in recent years attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies including the FBI and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency as it has risen to become the world’s most prominent group of “hacktivists”, who combines computer hacking with political activism.
Anonymous has no formal membership roster, instead being made up of a loose network of individuals who declare themselves part of the cause in order to collaborate on pranks, protests, or various forms of civil disobedience. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment on the backgrounds of the report’s researchers, but described their interest in corporate activism as “the logical next step – we think we may have something to contribute here”.
Anonymous said it had obtained all its information about Chaoda legally but disclosed it has an “indirect interest” in a fall in the company’s share price due to short positions held by its “associates, partners, affiliates, consultants, clients, and other related parties”.
Anonymous members invited visitors to their website to pass on evidence of corruption and poor governance at other companies. “We have to start with smaller companies, gather enough resources and expertise, and slowly work our way up the food chain,” the spokesperson added. “We would love to take down the next Madoff, but we have to make sure our reach doesn’t exceed our grasp.”