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The backstory: Guo Wengui is a Chinese businessman who fled China in 2014 and settled down in Manhattan. He made a name for himself by openly bashing the Chinese government and its policies. He was also accused of corruption crimes in China, which he has denied. Guo is also buds with ex-White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Together, they co-founded two nonprofit organizations that launched PR campaigns against the CCP.
More recently: Last year, Bannon was nabbed while hanging out on Guo’s yacht in Connecticut for fraud charges related to the “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign. Former President Trump ended up pardoning Bannon, but then he got hit with similar charges at the state level and pleaded not guilty.
As for Guo, his GTV Media Group had to fork over a whopping US$539 million to settle a lawsuit with US financial regulators after being accused of duping investors in a cryptocurrency investment scheme. GTV didn’t admit guilt in the case.
The development: Now, Guo is in hot water with the US government. He’s been accused of running a scheme that scammed his online followers out of over US$1 billion. He's facing 11 criminal counts, including securities fraud, wire fraud and concealing money laundering. He pleaded not guilty, but he's been detained without bail until his next court appearance on April 4.
Allegedly Guo promised his followers huge investment returns but instead used their money to live like a boss. We're talking a US$37 million yacht, a 50,000 square-foot mansion in New Jersey and even a US$3.5 million Ferrari for his son. Oh, and let's not forget the US$62,000 TV and two mattresses that cost US$36,000 each.
The authorities seized a mind-blowing US$634 million from 21 of his bank accounts and confiscated his Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster. Right after the FBI raided Guo's apartment, a fire broke out, which is still being investigated.
Another accomplice that lives in London and Hong Kong was also charged but is still at large.
"We allege that Guo was a serial fraudster," said Gurbir Grewal, SEC enforcement chief, in a statement.
"In or about 2018, Kwok founded two purported nonprofit organizations, namely, the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society. Kwok used the nonprofit organisations to amass followers who were aligned with his purported policy objectives in China and who were also inclined to believe Kwok's statements regarding investment and money-making opportunities," said the Department of Justice, referring to Guo.
"Fraudulent investment scams make victims out of innocent people, ultimately harming the public's confidence in the integrity of financial systems," said Michael J Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI. "The FBI continues to make investigating complex financial crimes a top priority, and anyone attempting these crimes will be made to face the consequences in the criminal justice system."