Facebook suspends Chinese billionaire's account by 'mistake'

Incident follows Beijing's request to Interpol for his arrest

Mr Guo Wengui, seen here in London in March last year, has made accusations of alleged corruption involving family members of top-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials.
Mr Guo Wengui, seen here in London in March last year, has made accusations of alleged corruption involving family members of top-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials. PHOTO: NYTIMES

HONG KONG • Chinese-born billionaire Guo Wengui has recently publicised accusations of corruption against family members of top- ranking Chinese Communist Party officials. Last week, China's government asked Interpol to issue a request for his arrest.

On Friday, Facebook suspended Mr Guo's account. After he complained publicly, Facebook said the suspension had been a mistake, and his account was restored.

The incident comes in the middle of a full-court press by the Chinese government to push back against the accusations from the eccentric billionaire.

It highlights a persistent problem for Facebook, which must manage matters as varied as bad manners and high-stakes political battles on a website with nearly two billion users.

Facebook has been in a protracted and public courtship with China, which blocks the social network but has the world's largest Internet-using population. The New York Times reported last year that Facebook had developed a tool that would let third parties censor the social network as part of its attempt to gain entry into the market.

Just after midnight on Friday, Mr Guo posted a message on Twitter that said his public Facebook account had been suspended.

"What does this mean, Facebook blocked me?" he wrote in part of the post. "They must have got really scared! Can this stop my revelations? This is truly lawless. This is very interesting. Their fear and worry make me think that the value of my various evidence is bigger than what I had imagined."

Some responded to Mr Guo's message by posting photos of Facebook's chief executive, Mr Mark Zuckerberg, meeting high-profile Chinese politicians.

A Facebook spokesman said the company's automated systems had erroneously suspended Mr Guo's account and that once the company was able to investigate the error, it had restored the profile.

The precise reason for the suspension would be difficult to determine, the spokesman said, adding that publicising the reasons could allow others to manipulate the system.

Mr Guo did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr Guo, who is also a member of the Mar-a-Lago resort, owned by President Donald Trump, has attracted plenty of attention this week.

Hours before he was interviewed on Wednesday by Voice of America - which he had said would include a "nuclear bomb" of allegations - China asked Interpol, the global police organisation, to arrest the billionaire.

A Voice of America official said the Chinese government had pressured the broadcaster not to show the interview.

Mr Guo has been living outside China for two years after a deal to acquire a brokerage went bad. He has been accused of giving about US$8 million (S$11.2 million) in bribes to a former top intelligence official, according to a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

In the Voice of America interview, he denied those allegations.

Mr Guo, also known as Miles Kwok, has made claims via social media platform Twitter, overseas Chinese-language Mingjing News and Voice of America about alleged corruption involving state leaders and their family members.

He has vowed to keep up the claims, saying on his Twitter account that he would continue to expose corrupt leaders, reported the SCMP.

"I'm working with lawyers to discuss how to legally publish videos on (members of the Communist Party's highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee). Their accounts, assets, property, fixed assets, the education of their children in the US and Europe," Mr Guo wrote on his Twitter account on Thursday night.

"No one can intimidate Guo Wengui. More powerful leaks are set to roll out... It's just the beginning."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline Facebook suspends Chinese billionaire's account by 'mistake'. Subscribe