BEIJING: China's foreign ministry said today that Interpol has issued a "red notice" seeking the arrest of Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire who has threatened to expose corruption at the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang gave no details about Guo's alleged crimes when announcing the Interpol notice. The real estate tycoon disappeared from public view in 2014 but resurfaced in recent months, claiming in two interviews with overseas Chinese media and a stream of Twitter posts that he held damning information about party elites.
Guo's case has been closely followed by Chinese political watchers, who say his leaks could be potentially damaging as internal factions jostle for power in the months leading up to the 19th Party Congress expected this fall, when a new generation of party leaders will be chosen.
Guo has been linked to Ma Jian, a former deputy head of China's intelligence service who was charged with corruption in February. He is believed to be in the US or Britain, two countries that do not have extradition treaties with China.
In brief messages to The Associated Press today, Guo dismissed the Interpol notice as an empty threat from the Chinese leadership. "It's all lies, all threats," Guo said. "It shows they are scared of me leaking explosive information."
He added: "Don't worry, this is a good thing." Guo was not listed on Interpol's website and agency officials declined comment, saying that Interpol does not comment on specific cases without the agreement of the member country involved as a matter of policy.
A "red notice" for Guo would revive concerns over the election of a top Chinese police official as Interpol's president in November. Rights advocated had warned that the abuses and lack of transparency within China's legal system meant there was the potential for Interpol to be misused to attack Beijing's political opponents.
"Our warnings about the risk of political instrumentalization of Interpol after putting high ranking (Chinese Communist Party) official at the top were not overblown," Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's regional director for East Asia, wrote today on Twitter. He noted that Guo had recently given an interview to the New York Times in which he repeated his claims to have evidence of corruption among high-ranking officials.
A "red notice" issued by the Lyon, France-based International Criminal Police Organization is the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today. Interpol circulates those notices to member countries listing people who are wanted for extradition.
China has sought to enlist Interpol in its ongoing campaign to capture Chinese officials and business people accused of corruption who have fled abroad.
Returning those suspects to China is part of President Xi Jinping's broader campaign against corruption in the government and ruling party, which itself has raised questions about Xi's political motives. Guo said that earlier this week he and the US- government-funded Voice of America had received threats from Chinese agents warning them against releasing an interview in which he promised to dish information about Chinese leaders.
The interview will be streamed later today in Beijing as planned, Guo said. Despite his humble roots in the central province of Henan, Guo's transformation into a billionaire developer -- and his bare-knuckle business tactics -- have been the subject of sensational stories in domestic media.
He reportedly worked with Ma, the disgraced intelligence chief, to obtain a sex tape of a deputy mayor of Beijing who blocked Guo's high-profile real estate project in 2006, leading to the city official's downfall.
At the center of Guo's recent corruption allegations are claims that relatives of He Guoqiang, a former member of Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful decision- making body, were secretly stakeholders in Founder Securities, a company that Guo sought unsuccessfully to purchase a stake in in 2014.