China says Interpol "red notice" issued for tycoon Guo Wengui

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Interpol had issued a “red notice” for Guo Wengui, a controversial property tycoon who has made claims of high-level corruption within the ruling Communist Party.

Guo, who is known to have close ties with disgraced former state security vice-minister Ma Jian, has mainly lived in the United States since leaving China two years ago after what he says was a business dispute with relatives of a retired top Communist Party official.

The South China Morning Post first reported that an Interpol “red notice” was issued for Guo at China’s request on Tuesday evening, citing unidentified sources.

The newspaper said Guo was suspected of bribing Ma with 60 million yuan ($8.71 million). Ma, who worked in counter-espionage, is being prosecuted for graft and was expelled from the Communist Party in December.

“What we understand is that Interpol has already issued a ‘red notice’ for criminal suspect Guo Wengui,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, without elaborating.

A “red notice” is an international alert for a wanted person.

Guo, writing on his Twitter account, said Interpol was an organisation and not a government and had no administrative powers, and that for many years he had no Chinese identity documents.

“This will only make Wengui fight even more resolutely to the end with these bad people. This is all just the beginning!” he wrote, without elaborating.

In a live television interview with Voice of America’s (Vow) Chinese-language service broadcast late Wednesday, Guo denied bribing Ma Jian and made fresh allegations about business empires controlled by the families of Chinese leaders. The claims could not be immediately substantiated.

The Chinese government had pressured VoA, which is funded by the U.S. government but run independently, to cancel the interview ahead of time, with the Foreign Ministry summoning one of the broadcaster’s Beijing-based correspondents on Monday, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

At Thursday’s news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang declined to comment on whether the Chinese government had demanded that VoA cancel the interview or summoned its reporters to complain about the interview.

“VoA can come and ask this question themselves,” Lu said.

He also declined to specify the crimes Guo is wanted for.

While the broadcast aired as planned, it ended well short of the scheduled three hours advertised beforehand. About 80 minutes in, a VoA host abruptly said they needed to end the broadcast due to “certain reasons”.

A VoA spokeswoman said the original plan was always to keep the live stream to one hour and attributed the abrupt end to “miscommunication”.

“In a miscommunication, the stream was allowed to continue beyond the first hour,” a Voice of America spokeswoman, Bridget Serchak, said in an emailed statement. “When this was noticed, the feed was terminated. We will release content from these interviews and will continue to report on corruption issues.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping sees extravagance and corruption as an existential threat to the Communist Party. In the latest effort to tackle graft, state media said late on Wednesday that the China has issued stricter regulations requiring officials to report personal information, including assets, to the party.

Responding by email to questions regarding Guo, Interpol said it did not comment on specific cases without the approval of the country sharing information on investigations and fugitives.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment.

($1 = 6.8867 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore