US arrests Chinese billionaire
The US government has charged fugitive Chinese businessman Guo Wengui with conspiracy to defraud investors. The tycoon allegedly scammed hundreds of thousands of online followers by luring them with his anti-Beijing rhetoric into investing money in his businesses, US officials say.
The indictments against the entrepreneur and business partner Kin Ming Je were unsealed on Wednesday. He was identified in legal papers under the name Ho Wan Kwok and five aliases, including ‘Brother Seven’, ‘The Principal’, but is best-known as Guo Wengui.
Both men were charged with wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering, while his business partner was additionally charged with obstruction of justice. They are facing several decades in prison.
Guo was arrested on Wednesday morning and pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court. His associate remains at large.
The Chinese businessman “led a complex conspiracy to defraud thousands of his online followers out of over $1 billion dollars,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams stated.
A vocal critic of the Chinese government, Guo resided in the US since around 2015. He used purported nonprofit organizations to spread his political messages to accumulate a substantial online following. He then exploited the trust that he gained to cheat his followers out of money with promises of “outsized” investment returns, according to the allegations.
Guo is also a business associate of Steve Bannon, a former adviser to ex-US President Donald Trump. The two were in the media business together. In 2020, Bannon was arrested on Guo’s yacht, the Lady May, in an unrelated fraud case. Trump pardoned Bannon in the last days of his presidency.
The charges against Guo echo those he faced in his home country, where he was a real estate mogul before leaving in 2014. The Chinese authorities accused him of bribery and embezzlement, and placed him on an international wanted list through Interpol in 2017. Guo claimed to be a whistleblower seeking to expose Beijing’s wrongdoings.