CATL’s initial public offering in 2018 made Mr. Zeng and two CATL vice chairmen, who together own a 40 percent stake, rich. Other early investors, some with deep political connections, did well, too.
The company’s success was never assured, but China had let the world know that it planned to dominate the electric vehicle industry. It said in a sweeping announcement in 2016 that a “third industrial revolution” focusing on digitization and “new energy” would allow China to take the lead in autos.
CATL invited a few outside investors to take pre-I.P.O. stakes. Among them were Pei Zhenhua, a businessman who set up a lithium processing company with CATL, and Yu Yong, the biggest individual shareholder in China Molybdenum, a CATL partner in Congo. Mr. Yu’s holding company controls 1.69 percent of CATL, records show.
One investment fund, Guokai Boyu, invested more than $100 million and held a 1.2 percent stake. Guokai Boyu is controlled by a private equity firm co-founded by Alvin Jiang, a grandson of Jiang Zemin, China’s former Communist Party chief. The fund didn’t respond to requests for comment.
One of the fund’s partners in that investment was an affiliate of a financial company called National Trust. National Trust in the past teamed with the family of Wen Jiabao, the former premier, in other investments. It was partly owned by one close Wen family business associate and overseen by another. It isn’t clear whether the Wen family had a financial stake in CATL. National Trust’s phone rang unanswered, and the company didn’t respond to faxed questions.
An even earlier investor in CATL was a Chinese private equity company connected to Hunter Biden, the American president’s son.
The firm, known as BHR, bought a 0.4 percent stake in 2016, paying roughly $15 million. In 2019, when BHR applied to sell the stake, it was valued at roughly $76 million.