Chinese Businessman Sued by HNA Seeks U.S. Asylum, Lawyer Says


(Bloomberg) -- The businessman who’s being sued for defamation by HNA Group Co. and sought by Chinese authorities via Interpol is seeking asylum in the U.S., in a process that will delve into political motivations for claims against him, his lawyer said.

The businessman, Guo Wengui, plans to challenge a China-initiated arrest notice from Interpol for him as part of an asylum application filed this week, said Thomas K. Ragland, a Washington-based lawyer at Clark Hill representing Guo on immigration matters.

Guo lives in exile in the U.S. and has made allegations on YouTube and Twitter about high-level political corruption and sexual dalliances among China’s elite. Some of those involve HNA Group, a once little-known airline operator which has taken on billions in debt, made more than $40 billion in acquisitions since the beginning of 2016, and come under regulatory scrutiny.

Other claims against him, such as those made in a lawsuit filed by HNA Group, go to his credibility and character and will be weighed as part of the asylum case, to be evaluated by immigration under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Ragland said. Any details and findings will remain confidential, he said.

“We’re confident we can show any charges that may be lodged against him are politically motivated because of his whistle-blowing and exposure of corruption,” Ragland said in a phone interview Thursday.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Denies Allegations

Josh Schiller, a lawyer at Boies Schiller & Flexner representing Guo in the HNA Group lawsuit, said his client denies allegations brought against him in various suits.

“My client does believe that these allegations against him and the complaints being filed in the U.S. are being meant to put pressure on him by the People’s Republic of China to make him stop speaking,” Schiller said in a phone interview.

HNA Group declined to comment. In its complaint against Guo, who also goes by the name Miles Kwok, the company has said he “falsely portrays himself as a Chinese dissident who exposes acts of corruption” while in fact, he is “wanted on criminal charges by the Chinese government related to his bribery of a former Chinese government official.” Guo has yet to respond to the complaint and will do so in due course, Schiller said.

HNA Group, which owns significant stakes in Deutsche Bank AG and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., also owns Ingram Micro Inc. Guo also faces lawsuits alleging defamation from Chinese actress Fan Bingbing and Soho China Ltd., a real estate developer. Guo has yet to respond to the first suit, and has moved to dismiss the second on grounds that defamatory statements haven’t been established, or distinguished from “political discourse,” court records show.

‘Red Notice’

The asylum application will delve into whether Interpol’s "red notice," akin to an international arrest warrant, goes against the organization’s mandate for political neutrality, and a formal challenge through Interpol’s system for dealing with such issues will be launched, Ragland said.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on the potential actions of any individual or the legal process of any member country,” Interpol said in a statement.

HNA Group sued Guo in New York Supreme Court for at least $300 million, saying he has made defamatory statements tying the company to the family of a high-ranking Communist Party official in China and to "illicit sexual activity" on its aircraft. The allegations are causing harm to the group’s reputation and financial standing, according to HNA’s complaint.

The asylum application, which was earlier reported by the New York Times, could take as long as two to three years, during which time Guo could remain in the US.

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