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The downfall of Guo Wengui, a billionaire accused of fraud on two continents


He cultivated powerful allies and built an empire in China. Then, fleeing the accusations, he directed his charms towards the United States. Now the law has caught up with him.

Luc Despins, a New York bankruptcy lawyer, used to take tough jobs:

After the bankruptcy of the energy company


years ago, he helped thousands of victims to recover part of their money.

But when Despins was appointed by a bankruptcy court last year to track down the assets of

Guo Wengui

, a Chinese real estate mogul and political provocateur who had failed to return tens of millions of dollars to a hedge fund, the assignment presented very different challenges. .

Teng Biao, a lawyer and human rights activist, was sued by Mr. Guo for defamation in 2018 in a case that was later dismissed.

Photo Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

In November, protesters appeared outside his house and that of his ex-wife.

Photos of his daughters, along with their names and employers, were posted on Gettr, an American right-wing social platform.

An Internet video accused Despins of helping to build concentration camps on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

The protesters even entered the lobby of his office, Despins testified in court.

"Study partners have been chased down escalators, with people running around, yelling, you know, 'CCP dog,'" he stated.

It would be one of the last of many harassment campaigns carried out in Guo's name by his worldwide legion of supporters.

Guo may now find himself at the end of a remarkable career, from Beijing-savvy billionaire to fugitive critic of the Chinese Communist Party to Republican ally of Trump.

That track record, fueled by bravado, ruthlessness, a sharp political antennae and alleged theft, has left lingering suspicions about his loyalties.

And now it has taken him from his Manhattan penthouse to his new place of residence:

the Brooklyn federal detention center.

Luc Despins, a New York bankruptcy attorney, was appointed by a bankruptcy court to locate Mr. Guo's assets.

Photo Brendan McDermid/Reuters

This month, Guo was arrested in that 9,000-square-foot apartment on charges of defrauding thousands of investors in the United States and abroad

from more than

$1 billion .

If convicted, he could face several decades in prison.

Guo pleaded

not guilty

in Manhattan federal court and was ordered detained at the request of prosecutors, who described him as a flight risk and a danger to the community.

"Guo Wengui is a con man who understands that whatever system you find yourself in, you have to learn to play it," said Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the New Asia Society. York, who met Guo in Beijing more than a decade ago.

"He had yachts, he had all the panoply: he knew how to arrange things around him to create a sense of

wonder, success and invincibility


Guo's lawyer, Stephen Cook, declined to comment.

Guo rose from poverty to control a nationwide real estate empire centered on a $1 billion office, retail, hotel and residential complex next to the 2008 Beijing Olympics site.

He lived in a sprawling $230 million

lakeside compound in central Beijing

, with a separate barracks for his uniformed guards and a huge closet—as big as some houses—for his

Brioni suits


In 2014, he was ranked 74th among the richest people in China, with

2.6 billion dollars.

Real estate empires in China depend on government connections and the free flow of cash, gifts and favors, and Guo's ties reached to the highest ranks of the country's power structure, including Ma Jian, a senior government


. intelligence.

In June 2020, Stephen K. Bannon and Mr. Guo announced the "New Federal State of China", an idea for an alternative Chinese government.

Photo via YouTube

With Ma's help, Guo, in the style of a Russian oligarch, gained majority control of a securities firm by buying out the stake of a state-owned company, according to an investigation by Caixin, a Chinese news magazine, which


found numerous cases in which Guo did not pay large debts.

The partners who quarreled with him ended up in police custody.

Ma later testified in a videotaped confession that he had accepted more than $8 million in gifts from Guo in exchange for intervening with other officials to

remove obstacles

to his real estate projects, deter rivals and other lobbying efforts.

"I was getting calls from Ma Jian almost every hour," Schell recalls of Guo.

"They were talking like they were in a


together ."

Guo's wealth brought him into contact with foreign dignitaries whose names he could drop.

In Beijing, he liked to show visitors his photos with former US Secretaries of State

Henry Kissinger and George Shultz


Guo said he had met

North Korean leader

Kim Jong Un on a trip to North Korea.

He tweeted photos of himself with the

Dalai Lama


he later told

The New York Times

that he had acted as an intermediary for the government.

But by early 2015, a Chinese anti-corruption campaign, targeting officials who received money from unscrupulous billionaires, had caught Ma.

In a country where the fall of a patron often puts confidants in legal jeopardy, Guo fled before he too could be apprehended, entering the United States on a

tourist visa


Find friends on the right

Once in New York, Guo fell silent.

Among China watchers, speculating about what this well-connected businessman might be up to became a parlor game.

Guo, whose age has been variously described as 52, 54 or 55, has said his feng shui master told him that 2015 was a

bad year

and that it was best to keep quiet until 2017.

But there was a more obvious reason for Guo to go public in 2017:

It was unclear whether his nemesis Wang Qishan, who oversaw the anti-corruption campaign, would remain in office after the Communist Party caucus that fall.

Apparently trying to influence the outcome, Guo spoke out, first on Twitter, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers, and later on YouTube, posting daily stream-of-consciousness videos.

Among other things, Guo claimed that Wang was the head of a corrupt family with secret stakes in a Chinese conglomerate.

He provided tantalizing clues and documents, but, like many of his other claims, they were impossible to verify.

Guo, also known as

Miles Kwok

and other names, gathered at his $68 million residence at the Sherry-Netherland, with sweeping views of Central Park.

In purchasing the apartment, he provided the building board with a recommendation from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Miles is honest, outspoken and has impeccable taste," Blair wrote in the letter, unearthed by a British tabloid in 2021.

Blair had previously introduced Guo to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, according to Caixin, which said Guo raised $3 billion from the emirate's royal family.

On Wednesday, prosecutors said in a court filing that the FBI had found a copy of an expired United Arab Emirates passport at Guo's New Jersey mansion, along with more than


in US currency.

Agents also found about

30 cell phones

scattered throughout three of his residences, according to the file, including one under a mattress in his Manhattan apartment.

Guo became a hero to tens of thousands of people in the Chinese diaspora thanks to his

inside information

on alleged corruption of senior Communist Party officials.

He also began working to connect with the powerful in the United States.

In 2017 he was already a member of

Mar-a-Lago , then-President

Donald Trump

's Florida club


When I was in Washington, I booked rooms at the Trump International Hotel.

Guo needed friends.

It was highly unusual for a prominent Chinese businessman who had been close to government officials to go on the attack.

In April 2017, Chinese authorities, angered by explosive accusations against leaders, reported that Interpol had issued a "red notice" for his arrest.

The Chinese government also turned to casino magnate

Steve Wynn

, who ran a resort in the Chinese territory of Macau and was chairman of finance for the Republican National Committee, along with a vice president of finance, Elliott Broidy, to pressure Trump to deport the billionaire.

But the effort failed.

To defend himself against China, Guo applied for political asylum in September 2017 and reached out to Trump circles, embracing views espoused by the president and the American far-right.

Guo soon won the support of influential Trump allies, and they gained access to his money.

In late 2018,

Steve Bannon

, Trump's erstwhile chief strategist, became president of the Rule of Law Fund, billed as a $100 million effort funded by Guo to spread information about Communist Party corruption and help his supporters. victims.

"We both despise the Chinese Communist Party," Guo told the Times.

"That's why we've become partners."

Bannon said of his new sponsor:

"It really impressed me."

Their relationship deepened, with Guo loaning Bannon $150,000 and later offering him a $1 million consulting deal, according to Axios.

Guo founded

GTV Media Group

, which disseminated news to a Chinese-speaking audience through a mobile app, in April 2020.

He sold shares and raised $452 million from more than 5,500 people.

Soon after came


, a concierge service that promised access to the latest fashion (G-Fashion) and rights to buy GTV shares.

Another $255 million was raised.

The cryptocurrencies promoted by Guo raised $500 million, according to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

GTV aired Bannon's "War Room

" podcast

, on which Guo was a frequent guest.

Both promoted

vaccine skepticism

and pushed unsubstantiated theories about the origins of COVID.

In June 2020, Bannon and Guo announced the New Federal State of China, an idea for an alternative Chinese government.

"We will completely overthrow the Chinese Communist Party!"

Guo declared with the Statue of Liberty in the background and a $37 million yacht he called his "warship."

To emphasize his goal, a few months later he released a song titled "Overthrow the CCP," which briefly reached No. 1 on the iTunes chart.

But by then, Bannon had been detained on Guo's yacht, charged in Manhattan with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors from an Internet campaign to help build a wall on the border with Mexico, and using large sums for personal expenses. .

Bannon pleaded not guilty and was later


by Trump before trial.

Rally to a base to retaliate

As Guo built an army of followers, he also lashed out at his enemies.

In Beijing, he had taken down a deputy mayor who blocked his property development by obtaining a videotape showing the married official having sex with another woman.

When a magazine was investigating Guo, it accused its editor of having a child out of wedlock with another of his opponents.

In the United States, Guo's revenge took many forms:

lawsuits, attacks on social media and sending supporters to the homes and workplaces of their targets.

According to a prosecutor's memo requesting their arrest, several victims told the government that, after complaining to Guo about his mismanagement of their money, he accused them of spying for the Chinese Communist Party, "effectively directing anger." of his base against them.

He was especially harsh on Chinese dissidents, such as Teng Biao, a jurist and human rights activist who was jailed in China and later fled.

Teng was an early critic of Guo, who sued him for defamation in 2018;

the case was ultimately dismissed.

"After watching him for 20 minutes I realized that this guy is just a scammer," Teng said of Guo.

"He's not someone who wants to fight for democracy or freedom in China. He just wants to use his influence and influence to rip people off for money."

In December 2020, Guo's supporters surrounded Teng's home in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, insulting his school-age daughters and carrying signs accusing Teng of spying for the Chinese Communist Party.

Guo's supporters also rallied outside the homes of other prominent Chinese human rights activists.

The protesters stayed there for two months, Teng recalls.

Guo's actions against Chinese dissidents fueled speculation that he was somehow working in concert with the Chinese government.

At first, some Chinese activists in the United States, including journalist Sasha Gong, were smitten by Guo's message.

But Gong later became suspicious of his credentials against the Chinese Communist Party for his attacks on dissidents and the source of his funds.

"I wrote to Bannon that not a penny of Guo's money was clean, not to take a penny," he said in an interview.

A Manhattan federal judge who ruled in a civil case in which Gong testified reflected how difficult it was to determine Guo's loyalties.

"The trial evidence does not allow the court to decide whether Guo is, in fact, a dissident or a double agent," the judge, Lewis J. Liman, wrote.

If US intelligence services have any concerns, they have not resulted in charges.

Far less ambiguous was Guo's strident endorsement of Trump.

During the run-up to the 2020 election, Guo's media network tried to harm the campaign of Democratic candidate

Joe Biden , claiming it had material from his son

Hunter Biden

's laptop

, including sexually explicit images.

But Jack Maxey, a former "War Room" co-anchor who was working to spread information about the laptop, said several images posted by Guo's network had been fabricated, and only distracted from what Maxey considered much more damaging material documenting the Hunter Biden's work with a Chinese private equity fund.

"He took fake photos and claimed they came from Hunter's laptop," Maxey said, referring to Guo.

Guo backed the lie of Trump's stolen elections, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars so supporters of his anti-CCP campaign could gather in Washington for the so-called MAGA Million March that November in support of the then-president, who refused to to give in

Guo funded a court challenge to Biden's election victory in Georgia, Mother Jones magazine reported.

Guo also funded Gettr, the social media network created in 2021 that was until recently run by Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser and spokesman.

In September, the SEC filed civil charges against three companies linked to Guo, alleging that they had made illegal stock offerings for his media company, which had attracted more than 5,000 investors.

The companies, neither admitting nor denying the allegations, agreed to pay more than $

539 million

to settle.

The SEC's lawsuit followed others from investors who claimed they had wired money to buy GTV shares, but had received no proof of the purchase and had not received the amounts requested.

Prosecutors declared this month that Guo had


thousands of investors.

A 60-year-old woman from the Seattle area who asked to be identified only by her last name, Chen, said she had been drawn to Guo in 2019 because of his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

She grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, and her parents, both academics, had suffered.

Chen said he first gave $2,500 to one of Guo's organizations, believing the money would go towards helping Hong Kong students escape.

In May 2020, he invested $125,000 in GTV.

"At the time we thought we had done the right thing," he said.

When he couldn't get his money back, he said, he contacted authorities and joined other aggrieved investors in suing Guo.

It was one of many civil lawsuits against Guo since his arrival in the United States.

Another, festering since 2017, would bring Despins, the bankruptcy lawyer, into its orbit.

A Hong Kong-based hedge fund, the Pacific Alliance Asia Opportunity Fund, had sued Guo over a $30 million debt that had skyrocketed with interest.

In February 2021, a court ordered Guo to pay $116.4 million.

But he defied the order, and in February 2022, after being fined $500,000 a day for moving his yacht outside the court's jurisdiction, he was ordered to pay Pacific Alliance $134 million.

Days later, Guo filed for bankruptcy.

That gave his followers new targets:

Despins and his family.

The alleged harassment they suffered is detailed in the judicial files;

Despins declined to comment.

In recent months, Guo has ditched the crew cut and close shave that he had long paired with his Brioni suits.

He has let his hair and beard grow.

Last week, a person claiming to be his daughter, Guo Mei, posted on his Gettr account that he was in high spirits at the Brooklyn pretrial detention center.

He was playing basketball to keep fit.

c.2023 The New York Times Company

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