Chinese conglomerate HNA sues exiled tycoon Guo

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.

FILE PHOTO: Billionaire businessman Guo Wengui speaks during an interview in New York City, U.S., April 30, 2017. Picture taken April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

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.

Guo, whose companies and employees are also the subject of criminal cases in China, did not respond immediately to requests for comment, nor did he immediately comment on the cases 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.

China’s judiciary said separately on Friday that it would prosecute additional cases against Guo’s companies, the official Xinhua news agency reported, after a court in the northern city of Dalian sentenced three of his employees for fraudulently obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in loans.

Guo has disputed the facts of the Dalian case and said its main purpose was to establish a criminal case against him, in order to bolster an Interpol global “red notice” for his arrest that was issued at Beijing’s request in April.

The three employees, who testified that they were acting under Guo’s instructions, received either suspended sentences or jail terms close to time already served.

Xinhua said officials in Dalian and central China’s Henan province would prosecute new cases involving Guo’s companies and employees on charges including abuse of power, loan fraud and destruction of accounting records, while pursuing additional suspected misdeeds.

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 make additional revelations in a live online interview scheduled later on Friday with U.S.-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 $50 million lawsuit in New York on Tuesday to recover outstanding debts and he faces defamation lawsuits by property developer SOHO China and prominent journalist Hu Shuli.

Reporting by Philip Wen and Matthew Miller; Editing by Paul Tait and Edmund Klamann