A flamboyant Chinese billionaire known for his love of supercars and social media has claimed he is the victim of a political witch hunt after he threatened to lift the lid on “explosive information” about corruption at the top of Chinese politics.
On Wednesday China’s foreign ministry confirmed that, at Beijing’s request, Interpol had issued a red notice for the arrest of Guo Wengui, a 50-year-old tycoon who had in recent months taken the highly unusual step of speaking out about alleged cases of corruption involving the relatives of senior leaders.
Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesperson, described Guo as a “suspect” but offered no further details.
But citing anonymous sources, the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper to which Beijing often hands politically sensitive scoops, claimed the billionaire was wanted for allegedly paying a 60m yuan (GBP 6.8m) bribe to former spy chief Ma Jian, one of the most powerful victims of President Xi Jinping’s high-profile war on corruption.
Guo rejected those claims on Wednesday, in an interview with the Chinese language service of Voice of America, claiming he was being targeted as part of a cover-up attempt.
The billionaire, who has aired his as yet unproven allegations on his Twitter account and in a succession of recent interviews, accused Beijing of trying to silence him with “terror” tactics.
“I’m greatly encouraged by the arrest notice. At least it will make people understand the true nature of my case,” he said. “If there was no such thing as corruption in China, the government wouldn’t become scared and frightened of me speaking the truth.” In a brief message to the Associated Press, Guo added: “It’s all lies, all threats. It shows they are scared of me leaking explosive information.”
Willy Lam, a political expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Guo’s decision to go public was an extraordinary move that was certain to put him on the wrong side of Xi Jinping.
“It is the first time a [Chinese] billionaire, whether in or outside of China, has exposed this kind of dirty linen in public,” he said.
Lam said Guo’s claims concerning the relatives of top Communist party figures had yet to be fully substantiated. Even so, they represented “a big public relations disaster for the Xi Jinping administration and for the Communist party in general” since they suggested Xi’s anti-corruption crusade had failed to halt what the president himself has described as the party’s moral slide.
The scandal would reinforce the impression that, for all Xi’s efforts, the families of top leaders were still able “to make a killing” from their political connections, Lam added. “It is not a pretty picture.”
Born and raised in Shandong province, Guo made a fortune as a real estate developer in Beijing, where he was behind one of the capital’s most unusual skyscrapers – the dragon-shaped Pangu Plaza near the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium.
He was recently photographed at Mark’s Club, an exclusive club in Mayfair, London, that bills itself as a refuge for the “global A-list” and whose members include former British prime minister David Cameron.
Guo reportedly left China in 2015. According to the New York Times, which has reported extensively on his case, he now lives in the United States where he frequents Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and resides in a $67.5m penthouse with views over Central Park.
It was reportedly from this apartment that Guo spoke to the US-funded Voice of America on Wednesday, making fresh corruption allegations involving a relative of a senior Chinese politician.
The New York Times reported that the Chinese government had attempted to stop the interview, summoning Voice of America’s Beijing correspondent and warning him against interfering in China’s “internal affairs”.
Lam said that by going public Guo might be hoping to shield himself from a similar fate to fellow billionaire Xiao Jianhua who was snatched from Hong Kong’s Four Seasons hotel in January and apparently spirited into custody in mainland China.
He was, however, playing a dangerous game. “His fate now depends on the US government,” Lam said.