Guo Wengui, a self-exiled Chinese tycoon with close links to prominent Trumpist Republicans including Steve Bannon, has been indicted on 12 counts relating to an alleged $1bn fraud.
The charges announced by the US attorney for the southern district of New York on Wednesday include wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.
Kin Ming Je, a Hong Kong and UK dual citizen also known as William Je and described as Guo’s financier, was also named in the charges and faced a further count of obstruction of justice.
The US attorney for the SDNY, Damian Williams, said Guo “led a complex conspiracy to defraud thousands of his online followers out of over $1bn.
“[Guo] is charged with lining his pockets with the money he stole, including buying himself, and his close relatives, a 50,000 sq ft mansion, a $3.5m Ferrari, and even two $36,000 mattresses, and financing a $37m luxury yacht.”
Guo was arrested early on Wednesday at his home in a building on 60th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. Just after noon, a fire broke out at the same address, according to the New York fire department.
ABC News reported that FBI agents were inside the $32.5m penthouse apartment when the fire broke out, and that the bureau is now investigating whether the blaze was related to the arrest.
Guo’s contacts in influential circles have been widely reported.
In October 2022, the New Yorker described how his application to buy the penthouse at an exclusive building on Fifth Avenue included “a personal recommendation from Tony Blair, Britain’s former prime minister, [who] said, ‘Miles is honest, forthright and has impeccable taste.’”
The same report, however, said that in China, Guo was “at the center of a burgeoning scandal involving corruption and espionage”.
Guo was also reported to have “paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump advisers, including Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani and the attorney L Lin Wood, who joined efforts to overturn the 2020 election”.
Bannon, who was Trump’s campaign chair when he was introduced to Guo during the 2016 election, came to call him “the Donald Trump of Beijing”.
Bannon was aboard Guo’s yacht on the Long Island Sound when he himself was arrested on fraud charges in August 2020.
Guo left China in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown led by the president, Xi Jinping.
In 2017, Guo made a series of salacious accusations about the Chinese government, accusing officials of having illegitimate children, houses and large sums of money in overseas bank accounts. The Chinese police accused him of paying associates to forge Chinese government documents and requested that Interpol issue a notice for his arrest.
Guo claimed that allegations against him in China were launched in retaliation for his efforts to expose graft.
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice said Guo, who is also known as Miles Guo and Ho Wan Kwok, was “an exiled Chinese businessman who has resided in the US since in or about 2015 and garnered a substantial online following.
“In or about 2018, Kwok founded two purported nonprofit organizations, namely, the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society. Kwok used the nonprofit organisations to amass followers who were aligned with his purported policy objectives in China and who were also inclined to believe Kwok’s statements regarding investment and money-making opportunities.”
Je, the department said, “owned and operated numerous companies and investment vehicles central to the scheme and served as its financial architect and key money launderer”.
Guo was also charged with laundering hundreds of millions of stolen funds to conceal the conspiracy’s illegal activities and continue the fraud’s operations, Williams said.
Michael J Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI, said: “Fraudulent investment scams make victims out of innocent people, ultimately harming the public’s confidence in the integrity of financial systems.
“The FBI continues to make investigating complex financial crimes a top priority, and anyone attempting these crimes will be made to face the consequences in the criminal justice system.”
Maximum sentences for the charges range from five years in prison, for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, securities fraud and money laundering, to 20 years.
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