Chinese conglomerate HNA sues exiled tycoon Guo Wengui over corruption allegations

Billionaire businessman Guo Wengui speaks during an interview in New York City on April 30, 2017.
Billionaire businessman Guo Wengui speaks during an interview in New York City on April 30, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's HNA Group has filed a defamation lawsuit against Guo Wengui, days after it first broke its long silence over what it says were "baseless and meritless"allegations by the exiled billionaire, court documents show.

The aviation-to-financial services group said Guo had injured HNA's "business reputation arising from repeated false and defamatory statements", according to a summons filed in the New York State Supreme Court on Thursday (June 15).

Guo did not respond immediately to requests for comment by Reuters, nor did he immediately mention HNA's lawsuit on Twitter, where he often issues statements.

The summons, seen by Reuters, cites allegations that "officials in China's Communist Party and their relatives are undisclosed shareholders" in the group, and that subsidiary Hainan Airlines had allowed government officials and their relatives to use its aircraft "for purely personal reasons".

HNA said in a statement posted on its website late on Thursday that Guo's allegations had harmed its reputation and that it intended to vigorously pursue its claim.

Chinese-born Guo, who lives in New York, has emerged in recent months as a political threat to the Chinese government in an acutely sensitive year, making clear that he wants to disrupt a five-yearly congress to be held this autumn.

Through Twitter posts and video blogs, Guo has unleashed a deluge of corruption allegations against high-level Communist Party officials.

Guo began making specific allegations against HNA in April but the group did not respond publicly until last week, when it issued a denial and threatened legal action.

Guo has said he will soon make additional revelations in a scheduled live online interview with US-based Chinese-language political gossip site Mingjing.

Last week, he urged HNA to make good on its threat to sue. "If it's just me speaking, that's no good," he said in a livestreamed video. "Only their replies can prove the value and the truth of the matter. This is critical."

Several other legal cases are pending against Guo. Nine Chinese creditors launched a US$50 million lawsuit in New York on Tuesday to recover outstanding debts.

Last week, three of Guo's senior employees told a Chinese court he had instructed them to fraudulently obtain loans running into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Guo is also being sued in New York for defamation by the chairman of property developer SOHO China, Pan Shiyi, and prominent journalist Hu Shuli.

He has provided scant evidence to back up his accusations, but his standing as a former billionaire insider, and his close ties with a disgraced former senior intelligence official, have made him a centre of attention in Beijing political circles.

The Chinese government requested that Interpol issue a global "red notice" for Guo's arrest in April.