A tycoon long wanted by the Chinese government and known for his ties to former US President Donald Trump’s administration was arrested on Wednesday, accused of leading a billion-dollar fraud scheme.
Guo Wengui, 54, and his financier, Kin Ming Je, were indicted in Manhattan federal court on various charges including bank fraud, wire fraud and securities fraud.
US 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 embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars.
Kin Ming Je, 55, was not taken into custody, while Guo was due to appear in court on Wednesday.
Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, said in a statement that Guo was accused of “lining his pockets with the money he stole, including buying himself and his family a mansion, a 3-year-old Ferrari , $5 million and up to a $36,000 two-story, while also financing a $37 million luxury yacht.
Guo was once considered one of the richest people in China, which he left in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping that targeted people close to Guo, including a top intelligence official.
Chinese authorities have charged Guo with rape, kidnapping and bribery, among other crimes.
Since then, he has been much sought after by the government of that country, under the protection of the United States.
Living in New York as a fugitive, Guo became a strong critic of the Chinese Communist Party and developed a close relationship with Steve Bannon, the former political strategist of former President Donald Trump (2017-2021).
Guo and Bannon announced in 2020 the establishment of a joint initiative that they said was aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government.
The Chinese businessman was arrested in his spacious luxury apartment at the Sherry-Netherland, one of Manhattan’s famous apartment hotels overlooking Central Park.
Hours later, firefighters extinguished a rooftop fire on the same floor as Guo, but it was not immediately clear if the fire was related to the arrest.
According to court documents, prosecutors asked that Guo be held without bail because of his flight risk and “the risk he poses to the community.”