China's government this week intensified a months-long disinformation campaign aimed at silencing exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui.
The latest allegations against the billionaire real-estate developer were leveled by police in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing asserting Guo paid two men to forge 30 internal Communist Party documents.
The two men, brothers Chen Zhiyu and Chen Zhiheng, were arrested and in a videotaped statements released by authorities alleged that they produced 30 documents.
Chinese public security officials took the unusual step of holding a press conference with both Chinese and foreign news reporters and released three allegedly forged documents during the highly publicized event on Monday.
The remaining 27 documents were not made public, raising questions that the documents are genuine.
China has been known in the past to use similar press conferences and videotaped confessions for disinformation—the use of false and misleading information to discredit opponents. Authorities also use torture and coercion to force confessions.
On Tuesday, Guo, who describes himself as a Chinese-insider-turned-whistleblower, denied China's claims. In a statement, Guo said he provided the party documents to the Chens in seeking to verify their authenticity.
"As for the contents of my whistleblowing, I take legal responsibility for its truthfulness," he said.
A report by a congressional China commission made public last year said Guo has been the target of an unprecedented smear campaign by the Chinese government in a bid to discredit him.
"Chinese state-run media called him a ‘criminal suspect' and launched an international publicity campaign, including releasing a videotaped confession by a former senior intelligence official accusing Mr. Guo of corruption and uploading videos to YouTube on a channel called ‘Truth about Guo Wengui,' to discredit him," the report said.
The disinformation campaign has included China's dispatch of four Chinese security officials to New York in October to pressure Guo into returning to China. FBI agents were prepared to arrest the officials but were blocked from doing so by the State Department over concerns it would upset U.S.-China relations.
Among China's numerous allegations against Guo have included questionable claims of financial corruption and rape of an employee. Beijing also used a senior Chinese national working at the international police organization Interpol to issue a "red notice"—an international arrest warrant that is a frequent tactic used by dictatorships against dissidents.
Xiao Qiang, professor at the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, told the commission last year the Chinese operation against Guo is "unusually sophisticated."
"I have never seen something like this," Xiao said. "Look at what the Chinese government is doing. Interpol. Chinese lawsuits against him. The diplomatic, talking to bilaterals of different countries. Domestically, massive articles, media discredit him."
China also is has used its so-called 50 Cent Army—hundreds of Internet trolls—who have targeted Guo on social media.
Chinese influence operations also have been used to silence Guo from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by asserting his posts have violated rules.
The Voice of America also canceled a scheduled three-hour live interview with Guo in April 2017 after an hour and 20 minutes, amid protests from the Chinese embassy in Washington.
China also conducted a hacking operation against Guo's lawyer and the Hudson Institute think tank.
Despite the campaign, Guo has garnered enormous support from Chinese within China and abroad.
In December, a senior Justice Department official said there are no plans to extradite Guo despite the Chinese pressure.
The New York Times reported last week that Elliott Broidy, who resigned this month as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, worked on a plan to force Guo's deportation to the Middle East and eventually back to China.
Since early 2017, Guo has been an outspoken critic of corruption among China's senior leadership, including current Chinese vice president Wang Qishan, who until recently was in charge of a nationwide anticorruption campaign under current supreme leader Xi Jinping.
Guo was once a confident of Ma Jian, vice minister for State Security who ran Chinese intelligence operations in the United States for over a decade. Ma was imprisoned as part of the anticorruption campaign that many regard as cover for power consolidation by Xi.
Using his access to senior Chinese intelligence and security officials and continuing ties to elements within the system, Guo has said he obtained documents from inside the Communist Party of China.
Guo also said the video recording of the Chen brothers made public by Chongqing police and implicating Guo in the alleged forgeries was selectively edited.
"The entire tape shows that the Chen brothers were helping me to verify those documents by answering my questions," Guo said. "Comparing the two recordings reveals that Chongqing fabricated evidence."
Guo said both Chens hold Canadian passports and recently disappeared from Singapore.
"All signs show that they were likely kidnapped and taken by force into the mainland China," he said.
"I have provided a great deal of documents in my possession to the U.S. law enforcement," Guo said. "Some of which I released have been authenticated by the U.S. authorities."
One of the documents Chinese authorities say was forged is an internal party report Guo made public at the National Press Club in October. The document said China had dispatched 27 intelligence officers to spy in the United States.
Two others that Chinese authorities claim are forgeries were published by the Free Beacon.
One revealed how China was covertly supporting North Korea in the aftermath of United Nations.
A second document disclosed China's plans to step up the theft of American science and technology information.
The three documents could not be independently verified by the Free Beacon.
China experts who have translated and published Chinese internal documents in the past said the documents appeared genuine but that authenticating them is difficult.
According to a recording of a conversation made public by Guo, one of the Chen brothers told Guo that a Chinese official identified only as "the commissioner" had verified the authenticity of the documents.
Guo also told Chen, according to an English translation of the conversation, that "I need to make sure that it is authentic because the information I will communicate with F department [FBI] must be authentic."
"This is very vital," Guo said. "They may fabricate fake stuff, are we going to do the same? Why are we not doing so? We need to be responsible for whatever we present, this is a must, otherwise our enemy will take advantage of it."
According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, Guo is a one of China's most wanted fugitives and worked with the Chens since August 2017.
"The fabricated claims, which also involved other organizations, enterprises, and individuals, brought extremely negative impact, and such behavior of the three suspects severely violated the law," the police said, noting that the investigation is ongoing.
Chinese authorities said the documents were intended to assist Guo's bid for political asylum.
However, Guo applied for political asylum in early September, a month after the Chinese said he worked with the Chens.
Chinese authorities also alleged that Guo made campaign contributions to members of Congress and former officials, Financial Times reported. No details were made public.
Guo said the claims are false and a fabrication by the Chinese government.
Arthur Waldron, a noted China specialist, said the Chinese operation in Chongqing appeared to be bogus.
"Guo has definitely got the goods," said Waldron. "Otherwise China would not be in panic mode."
"If the documents are forged then they have nothing to worry about," he added. "After all they have all the original documents and could have checked long ago whether those he claimed were in fact real. Did they? They must have."
Waldron noted that Chinese authorities have not asserted all the documents are forged, only a few.
"China wants to discredit Guo because what he will disclose is really going to hurt," he said. "I hope we have the sense to keep him safe."
Said Victor H. Mair, a China expert at the University of Pennsylvania: "While one may have reservations about Guo Wengui and some of his claims, the timing and contents of the story about him commissioning two brothers in Chongqing to forge documents concerning his U.S. asylum application, together with a flood of other unsubstantiated allegations that are simultaneously being hurled at him, reek of [Chinese Communist Party] concoction."