Almost $19bn was wiped off the value of Hanergy Thin Film Power on Wednesday when the Hong Kong-listed solar equipment supplier’s shares plunged 47 per cent, on the same day as its chairman failed to turn up at its annual meeting.

Li Hejun, chairman of HTF and its Chinese parent Hanergy group, has become one of China’s richest men as the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary’s shares surged about 600 per cent over the past two years.

In recent months, an investigation by the Financial Times has raised questions over HTF’s business model and trading patterns in its shares.

HTF’s stock was suspended on Wednesday, about 30 minutes after the share price drop, pending an announcement by the company. No other information was given.

Hong Kong’s markets regulator has recently been probing trading in HTF shares, sending written requests for information and meeting investment groups and brokers who have bought and sold stock in the company, according to people familiar with the matter. The Securities and Futures Commission declined to comment.

HTF’s public relations company confirmed that Mr Li, who is the controlling shareholder at both Hanergy group and its Hong Kong-listed subsidiary, did not attend Wednesday’s annual meeting. HTF managers, including Frank Dai Mingfang, chief executive, and Eddie Lam, finance director, were present.

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Li Hejun, chairman and CEO of Hanergy Group, attends a press conference held at the company's headquarters in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. The Chinese company that bought Miasole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, says it can make a success of the emerging technology where others have suffered huge losses. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
BAODING, CHINA - DECEMBER 4: Technicians from Yingli Solar check solar panels used to produce energy for lighting, on the roof at the company's headquarters on December 4, 2014 in Baoding, Hebei Province. China is the largest energy consumer in the world with the main source of its electricity generated by coal, but in moves to reduce carbon emissions China is also setting records for installing solar panels and generating solar power. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Speculation of the whereabouts of Li Hejun was only the latest mystery to surround the Hanergy chairman and one of China’s richest peopleWhat happened to change the fortunes of the world’s biggest solar company? Take a quick look at key points behind the sudden reversalHanergy’s main rival Yingli Green Energy moved to reassure investors that it was taking steps to pay back debt after its shares plunged

Hanergy group said Mr Li was at the opening of the Hanergy clean energy expo centre in Beijing.

HTF’s meteoric rise from an unknown small company to a solar giant previously worth more than Twitter and Tesla has raised suspicions because of its revenue almost entirely coming from sales to Hanergy group, its mainland parent. The group makes so-called thin film solar panels, using equipment supplied by HTF.

HTF, as a result of being tightly controlled by Mr Li who holds close to 75 per cent of its stock, has a low amount of freely traded shares relative to its size. This means it only takes small trading volumes to push the companies share price higher or lower.

HTF’s annual meeting began at 10am on Wednesday in Hong Kong and the shares started their sudden sharp plunge at 10.14am. It was 10.46am when the stock exchange announced that trading in HTF’s shares had been suspended. HTF’s shares were halted at HK$3.91, having opened at HK$7.32.

David Webb, a corporate governance activist in Hong Kong, said it was unusual, but not unknown, for chairmen to miss annual meetings.

“It’s a positive thing if a chairman does attend given he probably has the deciding vote on the date of the AGM in the first place,” he added.

The previous surge in HTF’s shares had made Mr Li one of the richest men in China on paper. As recently as last month he was buying more shares, taking his holdings to almost the 75 per cent limit allowed in Hong Kong.

This had given HTF a market capitalisation of $40bn, a valuation more than six times higher than its largest competitor, US-listed First Solar, and more than the rest of the Chinese solar sector combined.

HTF’s breakneck growth had also surprised analysts because of the company focusing on thin film technology, a niche type of solar panel that accounts for only about a tenth of the global market.

Mr Li has defended HTF’s business model, saying “a lot of people …don’t understand Hanergy or thin-film solar”.

HTF’s share surge had left the company trading on 95 times its earnings of the past 12 months, according to S&P Capital IQ data.

This spike attracted the attention of hedge funds who have taken bets that HTF’s shares will fall in value.

Those funds that had closed out their short positions before Wednesday were left nursing losses.

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