BEIJING (AP) — An elusive overseas billionaire who for months publicly threatened to expose high-level corruption in China's ruling Communist Party was named in an Interpol arrest notice before he appeared live on a U.S. broadcaster, which abruptly cut off the interview just as he hinted at his allegations.
Guo Wengui gave a Chinese-language interview with the U.S.-government-funded Voice of America for about 80 minutes late Wednesday before the hosts cut short the program, which was to be three hours. The cutoff raised heckles from VoA's online audience and questions about Chinese political interference behind the scenes, which the broadcaster denied.
The interview was less than six hours after foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang announced that Interpol had issued a "red notice" seeking Guo's arrest. Lu gave no details about Guo's alleged crimes, but The South China Morning Post reported that he is suspected of bribing a disgraced top intelligence official.
A real estate tycoon, Guo disappeared from public view in 2014 but resurfaced in recent months, claiming in interviews with overseas Chinese media and in a stream of Twitter posts that he held damning evidence about elite corruption and would expose it for the good of China.
In messages to The Associated Press earlier Wednesday, Guo said he believed the Interpol notice was intended to pressure him to drop out of the VoA interview later in the day.
Guo did not respond to questions about his relationship with the former top intelligence official but dismissed the Interpol notice as a meaningless ploy from the Chinese leadership.
"It's all lies, all threats," Guo said. "It shows they are scared of me leaking explosive information."
Chinese political watchers say Guo's potential leaks could rock the jockeying between internal Communist Party factions before the party Congress expected this fall, when a new generation of party leaders will be chosen.
Interpol's "red notice" for Guo could also revive concerns over the election of a top Chinese police official as Interpol's president in November. Guo is believed to be in the U.S. or Britain, two countries that do not have extradition treaties with China.
Guo's transformation from humble roots in the central province of Henan into a billionaire developer with bare-knuckle business tactics and notable projects such as one in Beijing's Olympic Park has been described in lurid stories in domestic media. He reportedly worked with Ma Jian, the disgraced intelligence chief, to obtain a sex tape of a deputy Beijing mayor who blocked Guo's high-profile real estate project in 2006, leading to the city official's downfall.
Guo is suspected of giving $8.8 million in bribes to Ma, a former vice minister of state security who was charged with corruption in February, The South China Morning Post reported, citing anonymous sources briefed on the Interpol notice.
As Guo's live interview with VoA began late Wednesday, the program's hosts told viewers that Chinese officials had summoned VoA representatives in Beijing to warn them against giving Guo a platform for unsubstantiated allegations.
The program abruptly ended just as Guo launched into a meandering description of the intrigue and mutual suspicions gripping senior party leaders, including President Xi Jinping and one of his closest allies. The on-air VoA host said they needed to immediately stop "due to certain kinds of reasons."
Twitter soon lit up with commentary among overseas Chinese dissidents and political observers about possible political interference. Guo took to Twitter himself to say that China's foreign ministry was behind the sudden cut.
In a statement, VoA spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said a one-hour interview was planned to be simulcast live on TV, radio and social media, and any additional material was meant to be packaged for editing.
"We had multiple plans to conduct additional interviews with the subject for social media and late yesterday made the editorial decision to record this material, edit and post it in the coming days," Serchak said. "In a miscommunication, the stream was allowed to continue beyond the first hour. When this was noticed the feed was terminated."
Bill Bishop, a Chinese political watcher who publishes the Sinocism newsletter, said party leaders appear to be increasingly concerned that Guo will reveal information that would cripple high-level officials who are being lined up for key jobs at the party congress.
"A bombshell that screws up the personnel arrangement is exactly the kind of thing that Beijing does not want," Bishop said, adding that Guo's allegations of rampant corruption involving even the top official in charge of the party's anti-graft agency has thoroughly undermined the party's propaganda efforts.
Guo allegations have highlighted "the real issue that corruption unfortunately appears to be in the DNA" of China's system, Bishop said.
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.
Rights advocates have 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 Wednesday on Twitter.
Days before the Interpol notice for Guo, The New York Times published a report citing corporate registration documents and interviews that appeared to corroborate at least some of Guo's claims about business dealings among party elites.
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's Ministry of Public Security declined to comment on Guo's case.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.