A Chinese tycoon wanted in China and closely tied to president Donald Trump’s former political advisor Steve Bannon was arrested in New York Wednesday and charged with bilking some $1 billion from supporters of his anti-Beijing activities.
The US Justice Department accused Guo Wengui and still-at-large co-conspirator Je Kin Ming, of stealing funds from participants in an investment scheme to buy luxuries, including a yacht, a 50,000 square foot (4,645 square meter) mansion and a $3.5 million Ferrari.
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The crime took place after the one-time property billionaire fled China in 2014, having faced charges of fraud and corruption even as he became an outspoken critic of graft inside the Chinese government.
Four years later, he was also accused in Hong Kong of laundering millions of dollars from investment funds.
Using his Cantonese name, Ho Wan Kwok, the Justice Department said Guo, also known as Miles Guo, leveraged his prominence as a critic of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government while exiled in New York to build a large following of supporters online.
Those supporters were encouraged to donate to, or invest in, Guo-controlled non-profits and businesses, including GTV Media group, of which Bannon was a director.
That activity spread into other avenues to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, including an online club that promised members substantial luxury benefits, the Himalaya Exchange cryptocurrency issuer and the Himalaya Farm Alliance, which promised investors discounted shares of GTV.
But the Justice Department said Guo and Je diverted funds for their own use, including for Guo’s New Jersey estate and yacht, a custom-built Bugatti, and two mattresses that cost $36,000 each.
In 2021, US financial authorities called GTV’s investment solicitation an illegal public offering and Guo was fined and ordered to give back $487 million to investors.
Since then, in successive actions, authorities have seized around $634 million in funds raised by Guo and Je, and on Wednesday, charged the two with multiple counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction.
“Fraudulent investment scams make victims out of innocent people, ultimately harming the public’s confidence in the integrity of financial systems,” said FBI Assistant Director Michael Driscoll.