Two held in China for giving flight passenger data to fugitive tycoon

Passengers look on June 12, 2014 at planes belonging to China's Hainan Airlines at the gate at Haikou airport in south China's Hainan province.
AFP | Getty Images
Passengers look on June 12, 2014 at planes belonging to China's Hainan Airlines at the gate at Haikou airport in south China's Hainan province.

Chinese authorities have ­detained two people working within the aviation sector for ­allegedly giving fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui information about passengers using Hainan Airlines, the carrier at the centre of his claims detailing corruption at the top ranks of the Communist Party, state media has reported.

Guo, who lives in New York, has said relatives of Wang Qishan, the party's top graft-buster, are undisclosed shareholders of the airline's parent company, HNA Group, giving it a powerful ­political connection that helped it secure aggressive growth in the market.

Guo has posted on his Twitter account information he says supports his claims, including passport details of a relative of Wang, and whom he claimed had been given a private jet by the airline.

Reports by Xinhua and The Beijing News on Monday said Guo illegally obtained 561 pieces of ­information concerning 146 passengers of Hainan Airlines from December 2015 to this March through Song Jun, a well-connected civil aviation veteran. Song received the information through an employee named Ma Cong, according to Xinhua.

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According to the reports, the relative of Wang was among passengers whose personal information was given to Guo, although the relative was not named and only referred to as "a certain ­customer" of the airline.

Other prominent individuals, including businessmen, also had their passport information and flying records disclosed, the ­reports said.

The reports also accused Guo of "trying every means" to gather personal information of political heavyweights, celebrities and their families from the Middle East and in Western countries such as the United States. The reports did not elaborate further on the identities of these people. Mainland news outlet Caixin ­reported in May that Guo was introduced through former British prime minister Tony Blair to the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Guo and Song became acquainted in 2009, but only reconnected when Guo suddenly reached out to Song six years later, according to the reports.

Guo began to ask him about people using business jets on the mainland and sought details in August 2015. Four months later, Song found the information about Wang's relative, including visa and passport information, through Ma and sent it to Guo, The Beijing News said.

Song was quoted in both ­reports as saying the private jet still belonged to HNA Group, ­rebutting Guo's claim that it was given to Wang's relative.

The content of the reports could not be independently verified nor could the tycoon's claims.

This is the first time state ­media have directly hit back at Guo's fiery claims against the Chinese leadership, which come at a politically sensitive time ahead of the party's five-yearly power reshuffle later this year. The allegations, although unsubstantiated, could damage the image of Wang, who is the face of the party's war on corruption.

The HNA Group has denied Guo's claims and is suing him for defamation in New York.