Death of Li Ming, Galloping Horse Boss, Is Suspicious, Reports Say

Popular exec was in police custody at the time, French newspaper alleges

Beijing Skyline
Feng Li/Getty Images

The recent death of Li Ming, 47-year-old chairman of Chinese film production, finance, and vfx company Beijing Galloping Horse, happened while he was in police custody under interrogation, reports say.

Le Monde, France’s leading daily newspaper, last week carried a full page news story about the death in suspicious circumstances on Jan. 2, of the well-known and well-liked media boss.

The paper reports that Li was in police custody at the time.

When Li became agitated during interrogation, investigators allegedly administered two doses of sedative by injection, Le Monde reported. The paper quotes an unnamed source as saying that the authorities wanted to “tranquilize” Li, but it does not say whether his death was an accident or deliberate. Other reports suggest that Li had underlying heart problems.

Li was apparently taken in for questioning as part of a wider investigation into high-level corruption. Le Monde describes a system known as “double detention” where a suspect is investigated by the Communist Party disciplinary committee and is not allowed access to a lawyer.

Li Ming was a close friend of Li Dongsheng, a vice minister for public security and China’s third highest ranking police officer, who was very publicly sacked on Dec. 25 as part of an anti-graft probe that may be connected with the advertising and media industry.

China’s President, Xi Jinping has made a drive against corruption and the removal of corrupt officials a key plank of his tenure.

Li’s body was released to the family on condition that no autopsy be carried out.

His funeral in Beijing on Jan. 15 was held under strict security. Le Monde reports that in addition to his family, director Wang Xiaoshuai was present and that John Woo interrupted shooting of the Galloping Horse-backed epic “The Crossing” in order to be present.

Other media in Hong Kong and China have reported on parts of the story, but those published in China, and many social media links to them, have been removed from the Internet.

Li Dongsheng, who is currently still in detention, spent the majority of his career at state-controlled broadcast giant China Central Television (CCTV) before being elevated to membership of the Party’s Central Committee.

According to Le Monde several other prominent business figures have been questioned throughout 2013 by investigators probing possible corruption in the communications and entertainment industry.

Galloping Horse was founded as an ad agency by Li Ming in 1994 and through the 1990s was the exclusive ad sales representative for at least one current affairs show broadcast by CCTV. Later, Galloping Horse became a content supplier, providing CCTV with several series.

The company’s move into the film industry in 2009 is much more recent. Li’s various film credits include “Reign of Assassins” (acquired for North America by The Weinstein Company), “Just Another Pandora’s Box,” “Eternal Moment” and “Kungfu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction.”

The company operates five cinemas and a significant talent management business with producers, directors and writers including Zhang Yibai, Ning Hao, Liu Heng and Lu Wei. It also has a first look deal with John Woo.

Galloping Horse was a producer on “No Man’s Land,” a controversial thriller directed by Ning Hao, which was blocked by the Chinese authorities for three years. It was released in December and became a major hit, grossing $42 million, and will play next month in competition at the Berlin festival.

In late 2012 Galloping Horse teamed with India’s Reliance MediaWorks to acquire the bankrupt U.S. special effects company Digital Domain. Galloping Horse sold its 70% stake last year to a Hong Kong stock market-listed shell company, Sun Innovation, since renamed as Digital Domain Holdings.

According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Li Dongsheng is also closely linked to former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang , who is also facing a graft probe.