China's Wanda sues microbloggers for 'malicious rumors' about owner Wang Jianlin

FILE PHOTO: Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin speaks before a signing ceremony between his company and the Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM) in Beijing, China April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese property developer Dalian Wanda Group has filed suits against a number of media outlets and social media accounts for spreading rumors about its billionaire owner Wang Jianlin being stopped from leaving the country, the firm said on Wednesday.

The move underlines heightened sensitivity in corporate China to reports of company bosses coming under scrutiny, amid a crackdown on big-spending conglomerates that has seen some top executives detained or called in for questioning.

The Chinese firm said last month that a report claiming its billionaire chairman, Wang Jianlin, was prevented from leaving the country was “groundless” and that it planned to take legal action.

Wanda said in a statement on Wednesday it had filed lawsuits against the holders of at least 10 microblog accounts - some operated by online media outlets - on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat.

“Wanda will also press criminal charges against those whose behavior constituted a crime by spreading the rumors,” Wanda said, adding it would seek compensation of 5 million yuan ($765,427) from each account and a public apology.

Some media outlets had reported, without citing sources, that Wang had been stopped from leaving China’s Tianjin airport while with his family and detained for a few hours.

Weibo and Tencent Holdings Ltd, which runs WeChat, were not available to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Wanda, which has spent billions of dollars on global entertainment and sports firms in recent years, is one of a number of firms to have drawn the gaze of Chinese regulators concerned about capital outflows and risky overseas deals.

Squeezed for finance, Wanda last month agreed to sell 77 hotels to Guangzhou R&F Properties Co Ltd for 19.9 billion yuan and 91 percent equity in 13 tourism projects to Sunac China Holdings Ltd for 43.8 billion yuan.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Christopher Cushing