HONG KONG (Reuters) - Exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui is suspected of obtaining confidential client data of aviation-to-financial services conglomerate HNA from air traffic control and airline staff, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing Chinese police.
A senior official of the air traffic control department and an airline duty manager have been arrested in connection with the matter, Xinhua said.
Chinese-born Guo, now based in New York, has unleashed a torrent of corruption allegations against high-level Communist Party officials and is facing multiple lawsuits in a number of different jurisdictions.
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Chinese authorities have retaliated with stepped up attempts over the past few months to discredit Guo. Following a request from Beijing, Interpol issued a "red notice" for Guo in April. A red notice is an international alert for a wanted person.
Xinhua said Guo had, through a senior civil aviation official, Song Jun, obtained the private information on 146 clients of the HNA group, including flight times, destinations and flight numbers in order to spread and fabricate what it called "corruption" and "sexual" stories.
Song, a senior staff member of the civil aviation air traffic control department, had now been arrested by authorities on alleged private data violations, along with an airline duty manager, Xinhua cited the police as saying.
It wasn't clear in the article if Song had received payment from Guo, though it claimed Guo had offered benefits to Song including the use of a rental apartment in Hong Kong, as well as a high credit limit payment card for purchases.
The HNA Group declined to comment.
An assistant of Guo did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Writing in his Twitter account, Guo didn't appear to specifically address the allegations in the Xinhua article, but he said the news agency had "helped ... a lot".
"I really hope Xinhua will disclose more information".
Guo has previously denounced Chinese authorities for attempting to smear him as a criminal and to silence him.
In New York, Guo faces a defamation lawsuit from the HNA Group, which said Guo had injured HNA's "business reputation arising from repeated false and defamatory statements".
The summons, seen by Reuters, cites allegations made by Guo that "officials in China's Communist Party and their relatives are undisclosed shareholders" in the group, and that subsidiary Hainan Airlines had allowed government officials and their relatives to use its aircraft "for purely personal reasons".
Guo has mainly lived in the United States since leaving China two years ago after what he says was a business dispute with relatives of a retired top Communist Party official.
(Reporting by Hong Kong newsroom; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)