PR firm Edelman says its China chief is missing amid unspecified investigation

BEIJING (REUTERS) - US public relations firm Edelman said on Friday it did not know the whereabouts of its China chief, who has been helping Chinese authorities with an unspecified investigation.

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said Steven Cao had not been seen this week at either the Edelman office in Beijing or that of its subsidiary, Pegasus Public Relations Consulting. Mr Cao is chief executive of Edelman's China arm and also runs Pegasus.

Mr Cao co-founded Pegasus, along with celebrity news anchor Rui Chenggang and another partner. Mr Rui was detained in July amid a broader corruption investigation into state TV network CCTV, where he hosts a popular financial news programme. "We have not been in contact with Steven, so we don't have any further information about Steven's whereabouts," Edelman said in a statement.

Mr Cao was "cooperating with authorities on the investigation", it said, repeating a comment it made last week, without elaborating.

Pegasus had also said last week that Mr Cao was cooperating with authorities on an inquiry, without saying what it was about. Asked about Mr Cao's whereabouts earlier this week, Pegasus said it would be "inappropriate to comment further on an ongoing investigation".

Chinese authorities visited the Pegasus offices in the financial district of Beijing on July 24, Pegasus has said. Security authorities could not be reached for comment.

Edelman acquired Pegasus in 2007. It has said it expected Mr Rui, who was working at CCTV at the time, to divest his minority shares right away. But Mr Rui didn't sell his stake to Mr Cao until three years later, Edelman said.

Pegasus was hired by corporate sponsors involved in underwriting CCTV's presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009 and 2010, Edelman has also said, without elaborating on who the sponsors were. Mr Rui had moderated panels at the forum.

The U.S. company, which is co-headquartered in New York and Chicago, has several offices in China and says on its website it assists Chinese state-owned enterprises as well as multinational clients.

It is unclear whether Mr Rui is suspected of any crime, and public security authorities have not made any mention of his case. Mr Rui has not been reachable for comment.

Mr Rui is known for his nationalistic rhetoric, and is famous for starting a movement to oust a Starbucks outlet from Beijing's historic Forbidden City. Starbucks Corp is a client of Edelman.

Mr Rui is among several employees to be swept up in the investigation into CCTV.

President Xi Jinping has vowed to take down powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies" in a graft-busting campaign that has penetrated deep into various sectors and provinces.

The Communist Party earlier this week announced an investigation into former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, by far the highest-profile figure caught up in Xi's corruption crackdown.