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Guo Wengui

Fraudsters conned fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui out of US$3 million

Billionaire made payment to pair whom he believed had helped secure release of his secretary from detention, according to state media

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 11:39pm

Fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui was duped out of 20 million yuan (US$2.94 million) by a pair of swindlers who claimed to have ties with Communist Party leaders in his attempt to return to China, official media reported.

The two men, one posing as a military-chief-turned Buddhist master with blood ties to a party leader and the other as a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army’s General Staff Department, received the money from Guo in 2016 as a payment of gratitude for helping his secretary get out of detention, Xinhua reported on Tuesday, citing the police.

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The report follows another rolled out by the official state news agency on Monday accusing Guo of illegally obtaining confidential passenger information from Hainan Airlines, the carrier at the centre of his corruption claims against the party’s top corruption buster Wang Qishan and his family, via two informants in the aviation industry. State broadcaster CCTV also reported on the matter in a programme on Monday evening.

In an online video streamed on Monday night, Guo said Xinhua’s and CCTV’s reports earlier in the day did him a “big favour” by proving his source of information was authentic.

Guo, who lives in a lavish apartment in New York, has unleashed a raft of allegations against senior party leaders in the past months, posing a threat to political stability as the Communist Party prepares for key five-yearly leadership reshuffle late this year.

Beijing has hit back by launching an all-out publicity war to discredit Guo, publishing media reports detailing his alleged business wrongdoings and bribing of officials while pressing fraud charges against his employees.

Zhang Lifan, a political commentator and historian in Beijing who has jousted with Guo on Twitter, said the fact that Beijing had resorted to top official mouthpieces of Xinhua and CCTV to discredit Guo this time - as opposed to earlier reports by media like Caixin - showed a step up of its campaign to hit back at Guo.

“It can well show the leadership’s attitude towards Guo - there must be more to come until his reputation and credibility is totally ruined,” Zhang said.

However, Zhang warned that Beijing smear campaign against Guo might have the opposite effect of fanning the rumours it tried to quell due to the low credibility of state media.

“Some people who did not know about Guo might become interested in him now. And they may not believe what the authorities said,” he said.

In Tuesday’s report, Xinhua said Guo had used the excuse of seeking help for his detained secretary in a bid to make the acquaintance of people with ties to top leaders to negotiate his return to China, which he fled in 2014. The report did not mention on what charge the secretary was detained.

Guo got in touch with the two suspects – fake monk Zhao Lixin and fake colonel Ge Changzhong – last year through his associate Song Jun, the report said.

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Song, a former senior staff member with the civil aviation air traffic control department who is now in detention, was in close contact with Guo at the time, helping him obtain information about Hainan Airline’s passengers through an employee of the group’s private jet operator, according to state media’s report yesterday.

“In fact, Guo’s request of getting [his secretary] out of detention was only a guise. It was because he wanted to return to China after fleeing overseas that he asked me to help find connections to get in touch with the top leadership and sound them out about him returning,” Song was quoted as saying in today’s report.

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Song reportedly met Zhao and Ge in May 2016 and forwarded them Guo’s request. Two weeks later, Guo’s secretary was released on bail after reaching the maximum days of “residential surveillance in a designated location” – a form of secret detention. Guo believed the release was a result of Zhao and Ge’s exerting of their influence and transferred them 20 million yuanas promised.

However, after meeting Ge in person in London a month later, a furious Guo realised Zhao’s claimed ties to the top leadership was “a 100 per cent lie”, Xinhua said.

Zhao and Guo were both detained for fraud last month, according to the report.

The HNA Group has denied Guo’s allegations and is suing him for defamation.