Chinese billionaire with ties to Steve Bannon charged with fraud, assets seized
Guo Wengui arrested in Manhattan
Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, the exiled businessman and vocal critic of Beijing with ties to former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, was charged with fraud after the US seized $634 million linked to his alleged crimes. Arrested Wednesday at 6:24 a.m. by FBI agents at his luxury apartment in Manhattan’s Sherry-Netherland hotel, Guo was later brought before a judge over the alleged billion-dollar fraud.
Fire breaks out on 18th floor
But first, in a strange turn of events, a two-alarm fire broke out on the hotel’s 18th floor, where Guo — also known as Miles Kwok — lives. The New York Fire Department is investigating the blaze.
Guo pleads not guilty
Guo will spend the night in jail, after pleading not guilty and consenting to detention. He will stay there if a judge doesn’t grant his planned application for release on bail.Guo and his financial adviser, Kin Ming Je, were charged with conspiracy, wire and securities fraud and money laundering, detailed in a 38-page indictment unsealed Wednesday. Je is at large, Manhattan US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Valuable assets listed
Among the spoils the government listed are a $26.5 million mansion in New Jersey for Guo and his family, a $37 million yacht, a $3.5 million Ferrari and a pair of $35,000 mattresses.
Ties to Bannon
The 54-year-old businessman, an associate of Bannon, has long been the subject of legal wrangling. In 2020 Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy pleaded guilty to illegally lobbying Trump’s White House to seek the extradition of Guo and squelch the investigation of 1MDB, the Malaysian fund at the center of a global bribery scandal. Trump later pardoned Broidy.
Bannon, the chief strategist of Trump’s victorious 2016 presidential campaign, was on board Guo’s yacht in 2020 when he was arrested for fraud in connection with a nonprofit group that took private donations to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. Bannon, whom Trump pardoned on the federal charges, still faces related charges in New York state court and has pleaded not guilty.
Obstruction against Je
The indictment of Guo and Je includes 11 criminal counts against them both and one charge of obstruction against Je, who is also known as William Je. The most serious charges, including fraud and money laundering, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
At his initial court appearance late Wednesday, Guo was dressed in black and sported a gray beard and round glasses. He wore headphones to hear an interpreter translate the proceedings into Mandarin. Smiling, he wagged a finger playfully at someone in the gallery. He entered his not guilty plea through his lawyer at the hearing, Tamara Giwa.
Danger to public
They also claim he poses a danger to the public if released on bail. Guo “has caused severe economic distress to many, and has threatened those who complained about his criminal acts,” they said in the letter.
Prosecutors seized the $634 million from 21 bank accounts tied to the alleged fraud, which they say Guo and Je committed through a series of securities offerings, Williams said in the statement. A Lamborghini Aventador is among the seized assets.
Himalaya Exchange involvement
One of the fake business opportunities the government says Guo and Je touted involved the Himalaya Exchange, a cryptocurrency “ecosystem” that featured the Himalaya Dollar, pitched as a stablecoin. To cover their tracks, they allegedly employed a money-laundering network involving more than 500 accounts held by at least 80 people and entities, according to the US.
Je a key figure in the fraud
Je is a dual citizen of Hong Kong and the UK who lived in London at the time of the alleged crimes. The US claims he ran numerous companies and investment vehicles involved in the scheme and was its financial architect and money launderer.
No mention of wrongdoing by Bannon
No wrongdoing is alleged against Bannon, who isn’t mentioned in the indictment.