An exiled Chinese business tycoon known for his ties to Trump administration figures, including Steve Bannon, was arrested Wednesday in New York on charges that he oversaw a $1-billion international fraud conspiracy.
U.S. prosecutors accuse Miles Guo of falsely promising his victims outsized returns if they invested in his endeavours. Prosecutors also alleged that Guo has harassed his critics, including having “mobilized his followers” to protest outside a Canadian journalist’s home in 2020.
Those daily demonstrations in Surrey, B.C., led to a physical assault on one of the journalist’s friends, who was kicked in the head, suffering a facial fracture, swollen-shut eyes and a lost tooth. The journalist was Surrey resident Gao Bingchen and the assault victim was his friend and fellow advocate on Chinese human rights issues, Louis Huang.
The protesters, who call themselves citizens of the “New Federal State of China,” told the Star in 2020 that they were demonstrating outside the homes of suspected spies working for China, who had been “distorting the truth” about the origins of the COVID-19 virus.
Speaking to the Star on Wednesday, Gao Bingchen said: “I’m worried that even if jailed, Guo will still find other ways to mobilize his followers.”
Guo’s attorney did not immediately comment.
Here’s what we know about a very complicated situation.
Why did Miles Guo flee China to the United States?
Guo, who is also known as Guo Wengui and Ho Wan Kwok, was once believed to be among the richest people in China. He left in 2014 and sought political asylum in the U.S. during an anti-corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping that ensnared people close to Guo. Chinese authorities have accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other offences.
Guo has argued that the allegations against him in China were false, saying they were intended to punish him for outing corruption 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 co-operation efforts, including Interpol, in seeking his arrest.
What is Guo’s ‘New Federal State of China’ group and what does it want?
The goal of the New Federal State of China, declared in June 2020 by banners carried by aircrafts flying over American cities, is to take down the Chinese Communist Party and create an alternative Chinese state.
The group promotes its messages through social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube as well as an online ecosystem of proprietary websites and video-streaming platforms such as G News and GTV — named after Guo.
But targets of the group’s alleged harassment say that while the organization has a purported anti-Beijing stance, it actually sought to silence veteran critics of China’s government —including journalists, lawyers and activists.
In October 2020, the Star viewed a series of videos of a man listing names of people including Gao Bingchen and telling his supporters that “they all deserve to die.” The man in the video looked and sounded like Guo Wengui, multiple people listed in the video told the Star. He was wearing a hat with a “G” logo and sunglasses. Most of the people listed in the video as “traitors” appear to be pro-democracy figures who are openly critical of Beijing.
In another video shared from the GTV platform, Guo’s face was clearly shown, and he says, “Let’s eliminate traitors in the world. … Let’s finish with these traitors first,” but he does not list any names.
In Texas, Christian Pastor Bob Fu, who’s a prominent advocate for Chinese dissidents with his NGO, ChinaAid, told the Star that shortly after Guo’s videos were posted, dozens of protesters gathered outside his home. Days later, he received online death threats and bomb threats.
“Federal FBI and local law-enforcement had to evacuate us from our home to an undisclosed safe location,” Fu told the Star.
What is Guo’s connection to Steve Bannon?
As Guo lived in New York as a fugitive he became an outspoken critic of the ruling Communist Party and developed a close relationship with Bannon, U.S. president Donald Trump’s former political strategist. Guo and Bannon in 2020 announced the founding of the ‘New Federal State of China’ initiative that they said was aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government.
It was on Guo’s 150-foot (45-metre) yacht that Bannon was once arrested on federal charges of defrauding online donors in the name of helping build Trump’s southern border wall. Before he left office, Trump made the case against Bannon dissolve with a pardon.
Bannon’s public role as co-founder of the “New Federal State of China” and frequent appearances with Guo on social media videos lent legitimacy to Guo among some Americans, alleged Teng Biao. The Star has not received a response to a request for comment from Bannon’s public relations manager.
What are the U.S. fraud conspiracy charges against Guo?
U.S. prosecutors accuse Guo of lying to his hundreds of thousands of followers, promising them outsized returns if they invested or fed money to his media company, GTV Media Group Inc., his Himalaya Farm Alliance, G’CLUBS and the Himalaya Exchange.
Guo appeared in federal court in New York on Wednesday.
The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, said in a release that Guo was accused of “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.
In court papers, prosecutors asked that Guo be held without bail because of the risk he could flee and “the danger he poses to the community.” They say Guo would face more than 100 years in prison if convicted of all charges. They also say he claims less than $100,000 in assets even though he lives lavishly.
After Guo’s arrest, what will happen to the protest group?
Other members of the “New Federal State of China” have not been named in the fraud charges. It is unclear whether the organization will continue after Guo’s arrest.
Speaking to the Star, a U.S.-based target of the group’s protests, Teng Biao, a former Chinese human rights lawyer who is now a visiting professor of law at the University of Chicago, said it is unlikely that Guo’s followers will continue without his leadership.
“Guo can’t give instructions to the followers if he is detained,” Teng said.
He said that the last several years of harassment, including months of daily protests outside his home and online death threats, affected his family’s well-being and his professional reputation. The last time protesters gathered outside Teng’s home was just last month, according to Teng.
But Canadian journalist Gao Bingchen disagreed with Teng’s prediction, saying he still feared for his community’s safety.
“I have been living like I’m in hiding, because I don’t feel confident that police will protect me.”
Gao said the last time protesters gathered outside his home was also last month, and the Star has viewed photographs and video footage of the events. To Vancouver criminal defence lawyer Paul Doroshenko, the situation had highlighted tensions in democracies between the right to protest and the right to be protected from harassment.
With files from The Associated Press
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