Genetic warfare

Ex-contractor puts BGI on the spot with suicide threat


BGI’s stock is 74% off its peak

“I decided to leave on September 22, the second anniversary of the China National GeneBank. I am prepared to die on this day in the most sublime manner. I will livestream how I jump off the tower. Perhaps nobody will be watching the broadcast in real time, but my death would attract a lot of attention subsequently.” Such was the dramatic message posted by Wang Deming, the general manager of Nanjing Changjian Yujia Health Management, on his WeChat account last week.

These were supposed to be Wang’s last words and the 31 year-old’s “suicide attack” was aimed at BGI, China’s largest genome sequencing company.

Wang has launched a number of scathing attacks against BGI since June, accusing the Shenzhen firm of using the development of the China National GeneBank as a front to camouflage its forays into non-core real estate projects in Jiangsu (BGI denies this). He has also attacked Mei Yonghong, head of BGI’s agriculture department, and formerly mayor of Jining.

Wang’s feud with BGI has its roots in the National GeneBank, which according to BGI, has been approved by the central government as the country’s first effort to build a national database of genomics resources. Wang’s Nanjing Changjian was one of the 11 service providers that BGI had hired since 2016 to collect customers’ cell samples, although BGI began to part way with these parties at the start of this year.

BGI explained that the terminations were a result of “multiple abuses of the National GeneBank and BGI’s brand” as well as “a failure to meet contractual targets”.

An irate Wang refused to dissolve Nanjing Changjian’s contract and demanded BGI pay out service fees previously agreed – a sum between Rmb17 million and Rmb77 million ($2.47 million and $11.18 million).

However, according to Wang’s account, he has since been put under immense pressure by BGI. For instance, Wang said Nanjing Changjian’s operations have been stymied after a statement by BGI, which claimed that his firm was never authorised to conduct marketing activities under BGI’s brand umbrella. In another allegation, Wang said he was harassed many times by thugs hired by BGI.

According to 21CN Business Herald, BGI has since filed a couple of lawsuits against Wang, including one in Shenzhen for defamation.

These acts seemed to have triggered the suicide threat from Wang as he tried to make a last stand.

Wang’s assertions – though not proven – have been accompanied by some key personnel moves at BGI. One was the appointment of Wang Shi as the co-chairman of the company’s listed arm on August 5. He is the respected former boss of Vanke, a property developer based in Shenzhen, and a good friend of Wang Jian, BGI’s co-founder (they climbed Mount Everest together in 2010). Three days later BGI’s agriculture boss Mei accepted a new role as a vice president at Country Garden, a Guangdong-based developer.

The damaging spats also come at a time in which BGI’s market value has plummeted over 74% to Rmb26.8 billion from its peak in November 2017. The decline came less than a year after its Shenzhen listing.

Wang’s death threat caused a stir nationwide. It also prompted BGI to change its way of dealing with him. Within days, it reached out to those who could dissuade Wang from taking his own life, including an old friend in his home province Shandong. BGI’s chief talent officer Zhu Yanmei also addressed Wang on Sina Weibo, promising to meet him anywhere to negotiate and to pay his legal fees out of her own pocket.

And for those who are wondering, Wang did not commit suicide last Saturday – instead he accepted Zhu’s offer of a meeting. There has been no news on whether Wang’s firm will receive the minimum amount it is demanding, but the negotiation did not seem to go to his satisfaction as he later said on weibo: “You [referring to Zhu] said too much nonsense. There wasn’t a sentence addressed to what I really want to hear…”

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