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Interpol heats up hunt for fugitive Chinese billionaire

China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-20 00:43

Interpol has issued a “red notice” for Chinese billionaire fugitive Guo Wengui, who is suspected of graft, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

Spokesman Lu Kang acknowledged the Interpol action in response to a question at the ministry’s routine press briefing. Red notices are issued for high-priority fugitives and are the nearest thing to an international arrest warrant.

Guo, 50, and his family ranked 74th on the Hurun China Rich List in 2014 with a fortune of 15.5 billion yuan ($2.25 billion). During his business career, he formed an exclusive club for wealthy and influential people — including senior officials and people from the business sector. It was known as the “Pangu Club” because its members often met at Pangu Plaza, a prominent dragon-shaped building near the National Stadium in Beijing.

Guo fled abroad about three years ago. His whereabouts is unclear.

On April 9, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top anti-graft watchdog, announced that Xiang Junbo, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, was under investigation for suspected severe violations of Party discipline.

Caixin magazine later reported that Guo managed to secure a loan of 3.2 billion yuan in 2010 with the help of Xiang, who was chairman of the Agricultural Bank of China at the time.

According to a Beijing News report, Guo, faced a shortage of cash, fabricated contracts for construction and home furnishings, and used faked financial statements to get the loan.

Guo then secretly transferred 600 million yuan to Hong Kong via underground banks and used 70 million yuan to buy a villa for himself there, the report said.

Guo and his associates are suspected of committing multiple crimes, including embezzlement, cheating on loans, illegal purchases of foreign currency, unlawful detention and destruction of accounts, the Beijing News reported.

The Pangu Club he founded was a collection of senior officials, including Ma Jian, former vice-minister of State security, and Zhang Yue, the top official in charge of political and legal affairs in Hebei province.

Born in 1967 in a village in Liaocheng, Shandong province, Guo is the seventh of eight children.

In 1989, when he worked for a trade company headquartered in Heilongjiang province, Guo cheated two men out of 7,150 yuan by falsely claiming he could buy gasoline for them, according to Caixin.

He was caught and sentenced to three years in jail with a four-year reprieve for the crime.

Guo then went to Zhengzhou, Henan province, where he established a furniture company.

A life-changing turning point came in 1992 when Guo met with a businesswoman from Hong Kong, Caixin reported. With financial support from the businesswoman, the pair founded Yuda company in Zhengzhou and entered the real estate industry.

Wang Youjie, former Party chief of Zhengzhou, told Caixin that Guo obtained, with his help, a loan of 600 million yuan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China for property development.

Wang was caught and sentenced to death with two-year reprieve in 2007 for accepting large bribes.

Guo gradually expanded his business from Zhengzhou to Beijing. But he again used false information to get bank loans and again resorted to bribery of officials, Caixin reported.

The downfall of Xiang Junbo was said to be closely connected with Guo’s bank loan, it said.

Yang Ying, chief financial officer of Beijing Pangu Investment Inc, told the magazine that Guo — who controlled the company and plaza — had instructed him to fake a series of contracts and forge a decent financial statement to pass the bank’s credit check.

To facilitate his capital flow, Guo had registered more than 40 shell companies on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Virgin Islands, Caixin reported.

In 2011, when Guo secured the controlling rights to China Minzu Securities, he misappropriated money several times, it said. Notably, in 2014, he diverted 2.05 billion yuan from Minzu. Currently, 1.74 billion yuan remains missing.

Ma Jian, the former State security vice-minister, provided shelter for Guo, Beijing News reported.

Ma was placed under investigation in January 2015 for allegedly taking bribes and interfering in law enforcement activities.

In a video obtained by the newspaper, Ma confessed that he had offered assistance in Guo’s business deals many times from 2008 to 2014, and Guo had given him bribes totaling about 60 million yuan.

In 2008, Guo reportedly violated government rules during the construction of a commercial project in Beijing and could have been ordered to demolish it by the construction authorities. But Ma intervened, Beijing News reported.

Guo reportedly asked Ma for help and Ma instructed his subordinates to ask the authorities for a favor in his name. Subsequently, instead of being forced to demolish the project, Guo was simply fined for the violations.

In return, Ma and his sister gained huge profits through the projects developed by Guo’s company, the newspaper reported. It said Guo also bought two houses for Ma in Hong Kong.

Guo also formed close relations with Zhang Yue, the top official in charge of political and legal affairs in Hebei. Zhang greased the wheels for Guo’s businesses, and in return Guo gave him large bribes and offered sex services, the newspaper reported.

An investigation of Zhang began in April 2016.

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