In October last year Private Equity International went on the trail of a Shanghai-based firm, Inventis Investment Holdings, which purported to be the largest private equity growth manager in China.

Founder Kwek Ping Yong claimed the firm had raised $14.2 billion for private equity between January 2013 and April 2018, including from US investors, and made more than 50 investments since 2000. Aside from purportedly managing a multi-billion firm, Yong is also known for teaching private equity courses at the Singapore Management University and Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, being a TED Talks speaker and having authored two books on private equity in China published by Wiley, according to Inventis’s website.

But of the 23 well-regarded Asia-based private equity participants from the buyside, advisory side and legal side PEI spoke to at the time about Inventis, none had conducted any business with the firm and 17 said they have never heard of it.

Since we published our article, nine market participants have approached us to describe their experiences with Inventis’ founder Yong. Some were fleeting – two students who took his classes on private equity at SMU and were suspicious of the content – others were more involved.

Youxian Capital is a fledgling Moscow-based deal-by-deal investment firm run by four directors. The four spoke to PEI about their involvement with Yong on the condition that we would not identify any of them individually.

Youxian began working with Inventis in 2015. The relationship began when one of the directors at the firm signed up for Yong’s private equity course at SMU. What followed, the Youxian directors claim, was more than three years of missed deadlines, a failed fundraise, a $50 million pledge that has yet to be delivered, culminating in a disappearing act.

Youxian and Inventis partnered in 2016 for their debut China-Russia fund and made a formal announcement in November 2017. Capital raised for the vehicle was to be invested in agriculture, logistics and transport services in Russia.

Both firms agreed that Inventis would help anchor the fund, gathering $50 million from its own investors, and Youxian would pay Inventis a monthly retainer for its services, the Youxian directors say. A year after the agreement, Yong was yet to bring any investors to Youxian.

“He was procrastinating with the launch of the fundraising, telling us to collect all the necessary info, prepare the private placement memorandum and disclosure materials ourselves, while still collecting the retainer,” says one of the directors.

PEI has seen copies of two bank transfers Youxian says it made to Yong’s personal Singapore bank account in June 2016 for a total of $20,000. The directors declined to comment on how much the firm paid Yong in total for his fund placement services.

By the summer of 2018, Youxian expected Inventis to have raised the full $50 million, but Yong had raised nothing. According to the directors, the Inventis founder started stalling and eventually stopped responding to messages and calls as of September that year.

Youxian says its repeated attempts to get in touch with Yong have been unsuccessful. The firm had also attempted to contact Joshua Lim and Kenny Ng – former executives at Inventis – with whom Youxian had previously engaged. The pair had left the firm in 2016 to establish their own investment advisory company, IJK Capital Partners, according to LinkedIn. The Youxian directors, however, were still receiving Inventis emails from the pair as of October 2018. The directors say that when they were finally able to reach Lim and Ng in October last year, the pair said they were as much the “victims of Yong’s misrepresentation” as Youxian was. PEI’s attempts to reach Lim and Ng have been met with no response.

Four other market sources who have contacted PEI since October last year claim they met Yong at an industry conference in Asia or Russia or had been his former students. Descriptions of their first impressions share common threads: Yong was “charismatic” and positioned himself as a prominent and well-connected investor in China.

One Singapore-based managing director of a venture capital firm says he had dealings with Yong as early as 2002 and was co-renting an office space with the Inventis founder in Shanghai. Inventis had missed one year’s worth of rental payments – around 200,000 yuan ($28,000; €25,000) at that time, the MD told PEI, although this could not be confirmed.

“All of a sudden he disappeared. The team just disappeared from the face of Shanghai.” The MD says he has not recovered any money despite repeated attempts to contact Yong.

Three other sources who came forward say they met Yong and learned about Inventis through his course at SMU or at the China Investment Forum in Macau – a conference organised by Yong – sometime between 2012 and 2015.

“At one point he was everywhere plugging his book on China private equity,” says a Singapore-based real estate investor who contacted PEI in October this year, referring to Yong’s work Private Equity in China: Challenges and Opportunities published by Wiley in 2012. “He said he’s done so many deals in China but wouldn’t talk about any of them,” the investor adds.

Another source – a Kuala Lumpur–based private markets broker – says he had an agreement with Yong in 2016 to source deals in Malaysia. The business relationship soured after a year as Yong missed meetings and deadlines on submission of documents. No money changed hands in the relationship, the broker said.

It is unclear where Yong is and whether Inventis still exists. Its website is still live, boasting the “largest private equity growth fund in China.” PEI’s continued attempts to reach him and his former employees, including Lim and Ng, have been unsuccessful.

A year on, however, media outlets and publications that featured Yong still display his name and works. Yong’s TED Talks video on due diligence in China is still online, so is the Milken Institute panel session on how China has disrupted private markets, as well as his CNBC and Bloomberg video interviews.

Publisher Wiley still sells the two books Yong authored on China private equity.

The University of Macau continues to list the Inventis founder as an adjunct scholar for the faculty of business administration while course materials from Moscow School of Management Skolkovo remain online.

Meanwhile, SMU, where Yong taught private equity courses, from 2009 to 2018, no longer lists him as an instructor. A spokeswoman for the university confirmed this with PEI but declined to comment on why he is no longer with the institution.

TED Talks, the Milken Institute, CNBC, Bloomberg, the University of Macau and the Skolkovo Management School did not return requests for comment about Yong.

That institutions continue to list Yong’s name is surprising, given the lack of evidence to support the achievements he claims, as our report uncovered.

For Youxian, chasing Yong via the court system is pointless as there are likely no assets to lay claims against, one of the directors says.

“We’ve collected enough material to launch legal action against him, but he is essentially a shadow, a phantom.”