Federal authorities arrested a prominent Chinese businessman and seized $634 million of his assets, accusing him of fraud and money laundering totaling $1 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports. Guo Wengui had gained attention by making corruption allegations against the Beijing regime and launching a media company with former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon. But prosecutors allege Guo exploited the following he amassed online by soliciting investments in his cryptocurrency, media and other companies and then diverting the money to extravagant personal expenses, including a $26 million New Jersey home. Guo pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.
As U.S.-China relations soured during the Trump administration, Guo emerged as a divisive figure among U.S. critics of China. If successful, Guo's prosecution might ease an irritant in U.S.-China relations. Beijing has branded Guo as an attention-seeking criminal, accusing him of bribery, kidnapping, fraud and other allegations, which Guo has denied. Guo, who built a real estate empire in China and fled the country in 2014, has fought dozens of court battles, suing parties as diverse as former business partners, unknown students in the U.S. who criticized him on social media, and reporters who wrote about him. He often rallied his followers to personally harass his opponents and brand them as Chinese Communist Party spies. Since 2017, his presence in the U.S. has prompted multiple international diplomatic incidents. That year, Chinese security agents tried to pressure him to return to China, prompting a confrontation with FBI agents and an airport standoff at which Chinese agents were nearly arrested. Guo and Bannon raised more than $300 million to launch GTV Media Group, which sparked a federal investigation. Soon after the fundraising, some investors began pushing for refunds after they said they never received official documentation verifying their investments in GTV Media, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time. In 2020, Bannon was arrested on Guo’s yacht, the Lady May, off the coast of Connecticut, and accused of fraud offenses for a border-wall scheme unrelated to Guo. He pleaded not guilty, and President Trump pardoned him before leaving office.