In subsequent months, the Chinese news media and investors raised pointed questions about the company behind the project, Huaying Kailai. The company promoted the “reliability” of investing in public-private partnerships like the bus initiative and promised annual returns of up to 12 percent. A New York Times reporter who visited Huaying Kailai’s office in September saw walls lined with photographs of the owner, Bai Zhiming, with celebrities, entrepreneurs and local officials. A half-dozen investors stopped by over an hour. Some left with gifts and grocery bags full of cash.
“We are just a private tech company. We are not a briefcase company for illegal fund-raising,” Zhang Wei, the director of development and planning for TEB Tech, the Huaying Kailai subsidiary that developed the bus, told the reporter. “Everything we do is approved by related departments in the government, and if we are an illegal company with financial issues, why are the local governments still interested in us?”
In the fall, as public scrutiny increased, the test track and the huge, 72-foot-long, 16-foot-high prototype fell into disuse. In June, workers began dismantling the 330-yard track, a sign the local government would not allow the project to continue.
Mr. Bai was among the 32 Huaying Kailai staff members arrested last week on suspicion of illegal fund-raising, the Beijing police announced on Sunday. Company officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Chinese news outlets were harshly critical, saying the exercise was little more than a fraud from the start.