A business tycoon long sought by the government of China and known for cultivating ties to Trump administration figures including Steve Bannon was arrested Wednesday in New York on charges that he oversaw a $1 billion fraud conspiracy.
Guo Wengui, 54, was accused along with his financier and chief of staff of various crimes, including wire and securities fraud. He was charged in court papers under the name Ho Wan Kwok.
U.S. prosecutors said the indictment stemmed from a complex scheme in which Guo lied to hundreds of thousands of online followers in the United States and around the world before misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars.
At an arraignment in Manhattan federal court Wednesday, Guo pleaded not guilty through his attorney. One of his lawyers did not immediately comment.
The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, said in a release that Guo was charged with “lining his pockets with the money he stole, including buying himself, and his close relatives, a 50,000 square foot mansion, a $3.5 million Ferrari, and even two $36,000 mattresses, and financing a $37 million luxury yacht.”
Guo was once believed to be among the richest people in China. He left in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping that ensnared people close to Guo, including a top intelligence official. Chinese authorities have accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other offenses.
Since then, he has been highly sought by that nation’s government, relying on the U.S. for protection.
As he lived in New York as a fugitive he became an outspoken critic of the ruling Communist Party and developed a close relationship with Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former political strategist. Guo and Bannon in 2020 announced the founding of a joint initiative they said was aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government.
Guo has long argued that the allegations against him in China were false, saying they were intended to punish him for publicly outing corruption there and criticizing leading figures in the Communist Party.
For years, his case was the subject of a debate over whether China was abusing international law enforcement cooperation efforts, including Interpol, in seeking his arrest. He sought political asylum in the U.S., saying he feared that if he were forced to leave the country, it might lead to his arrest in a nation with less power to resist Chinese demands.
It was on Guo’s 150-foot (45-meter) yacht that Bannon was once arrested on federal charges. Just before he left office, Trump made the case against Bannon dissolve with a pardon.
Guo was arrested in his sprawling luxury apartment at the Sherry-Netherland, one of the storied Manhattan apartment hotels overlooking Central Park. Hours later, firefighters extinguished a smoky blaze on the same floor as Guo’s penthouse. It wasn’t immediately clear if the fire was in his home or related to his arrest.
Guo’s initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Katharine H. Parker lasted only about 15 minutes because he agreed to be detained until his lawyers can prepare an argument for bail.
Guo’s business associate, …read more
Source:: News Headlines