NEW YORK (AP) — 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, and his financier, Kin Ming Je, faced an indictment in federal court in Manhattan charging them with various crimes, including wire, securities and bank fraud. Guo was charged first in court papers under the name Ho Wan Kwok.
Federal prosecutors said the indictment stemmed from a complex scheme in which the defendants lied to hundreds of thousands of online followers in the United States and around the world before misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars.
Je, 55, has not been arrested. Guo was expected to appear in court Wednesday. His attorney did not immediately comment.
Guo, also known as Miles Kwok, was one of China’s richest businesspeople, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.1 billion in 2015.
Guo left China 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.
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.
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.”
It was on Guo's 150-foot (45-meter) yacht that former Bannon, President Donald Trump’s onetime chief strategist, was once arrested on federal charges. Just before he left office, Trump made the case against Bannon dissolve with a pardon.
Authorities accuse Guo of lying to his victims, promising them outsized returns if they invested or fed money to his media company, GTV Media Group Inc., his so-called Himalaya Farm Alliance, G'CLUBS, and the Himalaya Exchange.
Williams said that, between September 2022 and this month, the U.S. government has seized approximately $634 million from 21 bank accounts, representing the majority of the proceeds of Guo's alleged fraud.
He said law enforcement on Wednesday also seized assets that were purchased with proceeds of the alleged fraud, including a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster.
The Securities and Exchange Commission also brought civil charges against Guo on Wednesday, saying in a federal court filing that Guo led others in committing multiple frauds since April 2020.
The SEC said Guo targeted retail investors through online and social media posts and videos, deceiving them with lies such as a claim that a crypto asset security called “H-Coin” was backed by gold reserves.
The SEC said Guo and Je raised about $452 million through an unregistered offering of GTV common stock from April 2020 to June 2020, claiming they would “build the most popular and safest social media and transaction platform independent of the Chinese government's censorship and monitoring, allowing the people of China and the world to realize the freedom of speech and trade.”