A cryptic message from an anonymous source at Edelman gave little clue to PRWeek about the condition of its China head. "He is spending private time with his family which we respect and hope you will too. We have nothing further to share at this time," it read.
Steven Cao had disappeared in mid-July amidst a high profile anti-corruption crackdown that saw him taken into custody. It followed the arrest of another former Edelman associate and celebrity CCTV presenter Rui Chenggang who was arrested by Chinese authorities on charges of conflict of interest.
The source said Edelman acquired a majority stake in Pegasus Communications in 2007, a PR firm Cao founded in 2002 with Chenggang and another partner. Following the estimated $5 million acquisition, Chenggang’s share in the firm reduced to 7.92 percent, making him a minority, "non-active" investor.
Cao purchased Chenggang’s remaining shares in 2010, expanding his stake from 8.1 percent to 16.06 percent in the process, but Pegasus provided services to Chenggang’s employer, CCTV, when he still owned shares in the Beijing-based PR firm.
Cao's return, however, may not be the end of Edelman's very own PR troubles in China. He still owns the stakes and Edelman has thus far declined to confirm whether this stake was now in the new Pegasus Activation unit or the Pegasus Communications arm that has been merged into Edelman. Local and international media are likely to try and uncover what he told the authorities. The storm that his arrest (and that of Chenggang's) has stirred in China is yet to run its full course.