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HNA Group Sues Elusive Guo Wengui for Defamation

By Li Zengxin and Han Wei
Chinese conglomerate HNA Group filed a lawsuit in New York alleging that Guo Wengui made
Chinese conglomerate HNA Group filed a lawsuit in New York alleging that Guo Wengui made "false and defamatory statements." Photo: IC.

Chinese investment conglomerate HNA Group Co. has filed a lawsuit in New York against elusive businessman Guo Wengui for defamation and seeking at least $300 million in compensation from the real estate tycoon.

HNA filed the complaint with the New York state Supreme Court, alleging that Guo, also known as Miles Kwok, made “repeatedly false and defamatory statements” that have hurt the company’s reputation and business interests, according to court documents.

Guo is now believed to be living in New York after he fled China in 2014 to avoid graft investigations into his associates, including former vice minister of state security Ma Jian.

In its complaint filed Wednesday, HNA said Guo has made various false allegations via social media platforms and overseas news outlets against HNA, including claiming China’s high-ranking officials and their relatives have undisclosed ownership in HNA, and accusing the company of taking illegal kickbacks and offering its jets to officials for private use.

HNA said Guo’s malicious accusations triggered HNA’s Hong Kong-listed subsidiary to suffer as much as a 16.7% slump in its share price in a day, the biggest single day drop in 17 months.

HNA submitted the notice and summons for the case to the New York court in June and provided the full compliant and evidence on Aug. 30.

The case with HNA added to a slew of legal disputes facing Guo in the U.S. and China. The Associated Press reported Thursday that the Chinese police have launched an investigation into Guo for allegedly raping a 28-year-old former personal assistant.

Interpol has issued a "red notice" seeking the arrest of Guo on the request of Chinese government in April for alleged bribery and other wrongdoing. Chinese police are requesting a second Interpol arrest notice for Guo, AP reported.

In late July, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing filed a defamation lawsuit against Guo in New York. Fan stated that Guo made false, defamatory, and offensive statements accusing Fan of having an affair with a high-level Chinese government official and accepting bribes to help secure bank loans and government approval for real-estate building contracts in China.

Guo is also being sued in New York by creditors and former employees for unpaid loans. These include Hong Kong hedge fund Pacific Alliance Asia Opportunity Fund (PAX), which claims Guo repeatedly shirked his legal responsibility to repay a 2008 loan made by his company. The original $30 million loan has appreciated to about $88 million after nine years, PAX stated in a lawsuit filed in April.

Hainan-based HNA Group is one of China’s most aggressive dealmakers in recent years, spending heavily on overseas assets ranging from airports, hotels to financial service companies.

HNA last year offered $6.5 billion for 25% of U.S. hotel giant Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., and in 2015 it purchased aircraft-leasing specialist Avolon Holdings Ltd. for $2.5 billion. The most recent major deals include its April purchase of 16.8% of Dufry Group, the world’s largest travel retailer, and the $994 million acquisition of Singaporean logistics company CWT Ltd.

Editor’s note: A Caixin report in 2015 revealed how Guo and Ma Jian, a former vice minister of state security, formed a close alliance, using national security power to meddle in business deals. In response to Guo’s subsequent attacks on Caixin, Caixin filed lawsuits against Guo and his companies, accusing him of fabricating and disseminating false information.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)
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