FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping arrives for the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
By Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday sought to discredit billionaire businessman Guo Wengui, painting him as a "criminal suspect" whose allegations of corruption within the highest levels of the Communist Party should not be believed.
Guo, a flamboyant property mogul who has held close ties to disgraced former Chinese intelligence official Ma Jian, has courted international attention with his explosive claims, most recently aired during a live television interview with the U.S government-funded Voice of America (VoA) on Wednesday.
China said on Wednesday that Guo was subject to an Interpol "red notice", a fact Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Friday.
"If you are willing to believe what he said then that's your business," Lu said. "We don't believe it."
The Chinese government had pressed VoA to cancel the interview ahead of time, including by summoning one of the broadcaster's Beijing-based correspondents to a meeting on Monday, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The ministry's comments come amid an apparently concerted damage-limitation effort within China highlighting Guo's reputation as an unreliable narrator.
A 23-minute video, purportedly of Ma Jian confessing in detail to accepting 60 million yuan ($8.72 million) in bribes from Guo, has circulated on Chinese social media since Wednesday night without being removed by government censors who are often quick to delete politically sensitive posts or unsubstantiated rumours.
The video, which was produced and posted online anonymously, has also been reported on widely by mainland media outlets, all of which are regulated by the government. Reuters was unable to independently verify the veracity of the video.
The widely read Beijing News newspaper, and the respected financial magazine Caixin, also published lengthy investigations into Guo's business dealings and ties with Ma, a disgraced former state security vice-minister who was first detained in early 2015 and expelled from the Communist Party in December last year.
Guo has said he left China in late 2014 after being tipped off about Ma's imminent arrest, and has not returned since his company premises were raided amid a heated dispute with state-backed Founder Securities.
Since leaving, he has spent most of his time in the United States.
After laying low for two years, Guo resurfaced in February and has since made wide-ranging but unverified allegations of corruption against several top Communist Party officials - past and present - and their families.
He says the information was obtained from Ma, whom he concedes he held a close relationship with but denies bribing.
At Friday's Foreign Ministry briefing, Lu rejected suggestions the timing of the Interpol red notice was connected to the airing of the VoA interview.
"Interpol has been around for 100 years and has 190 member states," he said. "For this kind of international organisation we think their actions are solemn."
(Reporting by Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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