Guo Wengui, a far-right mogul on the run from criminal charges in China, has worked for years with Steve Bannon to promote charitable organizations and for-profit ventures that the men say are collectively aimed at destroying the Chinese Communist Party.
By claiming to be an outspoken Chinese dissident, Guo, who also uses the names Miles Guo and Ho Wan Kwok, won a large and ardent following in the international Chinese diaspora. And his fans have showered his enterprises with investments and donations.
But his project was largely a scam, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged on Wednesday. FBI agents arrested Guo early Wednesday morning, and prosecutors charged him with 12 criminal counts, including wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering.
“As alleged, Ho Wan Kwok, known to many as ‘Miles Guo,’ led a complex conspiracy to defraud thousands of his online followers out of over $1 billion dollars,” Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Wednesday. “Kwok is charged with 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.”
Federal prosecutors also charged a longtime Guo associate, William Je, with taking part of many of the same crimes. Je, who reputedly lives in London, was not in custody as of Wednesday evening. Guo’s personal assistant, Yanping Wang, was also charged in a separate case with wire and securities fraud for her role in some of the same transactions.
In a wild twist, hours after Guo’s arrest, a fire broke out in the 15-room penthouse he has lived in since 2015 at the Sherry-Netherland, a hotel and condo building on Central Park East in Manhattan. NBC News reported that FBI agents were still searching the apartment when the blaze occurred. It was not clear if anyone else was in the apartment. Guo was in custody and not there at the time.
Guo has previously denied cheating his followers and has attributed various legal problems to what he claims is an effort by the Chinese government to silence him.
Guo has previously paid Bannon to advise his businesses. Bannon was initially a board member of a GTV, a Chinese-language video streaming company that prosecutors say was part of Guo’s fraud. Bannon does not face charges related to Guo. Bannon and a spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors date the start of the criminal conspiracy to 2018. That’s when Guo and Bannon announced the launch of nonprofits that they claimed aimed to boost human rights in China—the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society. Bannon served on the board of the Rule of Law Society until 2020, when he was removed following his arrest, on Guo’s yacht, for allegedly defrauding a different charity. After receiving a pardon from Donald Trump in that federal case, Bannon was charged with similar crimes in New York state last year. He denies wrongdoing.
Guo said he was putting $100 million of his own funds into the Rule of Law organizations. He never did, however. Instead, prosecutors say, Guo deployed the groups as a sort of bait and switch. Guo “used the nonprofit organizations to amass followers who were aligned with his purported campaign against the Chinese Communist Party and who were also inclined to believe [Guo’s] statements regarding investment and moneymaking opportunities,” the DOJ indictment says. Then Guo and others hit them up with “false and materially misleading information to promote these ‘opportunities’ and to defraud [Guo’s] followers and other victims.”
In 2020 Guo stepped up his money-raising efforts. His followers by then had organized themselves into online clubs, based in different countries, that worked to support him online. As Mother Jones has detailed, Guo began using those clubs, which he called “farms,” to raise money. While promoting wild, false claims about Covid and political issues, Guo asked his supporters for cash.
His pitch was two-fold. He guaranteed backers that they would make money. (He also asserted that various currencies were close to collapsing due the pandemic, making his ventures the only safe place to park cash.) Guo also told fans that by investing with him, they would help “take down the CCP.” In 2020, Guo and Bannon launched an entity called the New Federal State of China that claims to be prepared to replace China’s government. Guo said supporting his companies would boost that effort.
In the spring of 2020 Guo offered investors a chance to invest in a “private stock offering” of GTV, his Chinese-language streaming and news platform, that he variously claimed would rival YouTube or Amazon. Bannon was on GTV’s board, and promotional material sent to Guo fans touted the role of the former Trump adviser. Guo eventually raised more $487 million from supporters. Many never received any stock or interest in the venture of any kind, the SEC later revealed. But prosecutors say much of that money was secretly diverted into bank accounts a Guo family member controlled.
The stock offering was not properly registered with the SEC. As a result, banks “began to freeze and close” accounts that received money for GTV, prosecutors say. Faced with this problem, Guo allegedly pivoted to a new scheme: a “loan program” where his backers could lend money aimed at supporting GTV. This scheme brought in another $150 million, according to the DOJ. More than $25 million that money was transferred to Guo’s family, and another $2.3 million was used for yacht maintenance, prosecutors said.
Guo followed that with new ventures: He charged fans fees ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 to join a membership club, called “G|CLUBS,” which marketing material described vaguely as offering “a gateway to carefully curated world-class products, services and experiences.”
In reality, members received “few to no discernable membership benefits,” prosecutors said. Instead, Guo used the $250 million brought in by this effort to pay personal expenses for himself and his family, “including luxury purchases of an approximately $2.6 million yacht and luxury automobiles that together cost more than $5 million,” the indictment states.
Guo also hawked what he said were crypto currencies on a so-called “Himalaya Exchange.” Guo touted a product called HCoin in a music video released last year. In it, Guo could be seen strolling the decks of his yacht, wearing aviators, smoking a cigar, and driving a Ferrari. Bannon hyped HCoin’s launch as “monumental,” while Guo claimed that its value had immediately climbed 26,900 percent. But that was fiction, the government alleged Wednesday. HCoin “could not be traded for, or converted into, other currencies,” prosecutors said, but only for “credits” that could be used to buy other Guo products.
Prosecutors also revealed Wednesday that since last year, they have seized approximately $634 million from 21 different bank accounts controlled by Guo. That included $278 million taken from bank accounts linked to the Himalaya Exchange in September. Prosecutors noted that despite seizure of the funds supposedly behind this exchange, “the purported price” of HCoin barely budged.
The charges against Guo may have a wider fallout. Guo, who joined Trump’s Mar-a-Lago shortly after arriving in the United States, has employed or paid Trumpworld figures including Bannon, Jason Miller—who is now an adviser to Trump’s current presidential campaign—Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Flynn. Guo even met privately with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2021, two sources said. Guo and Bannon’s New Federal State of China paid a reported $75,000 to act as a sponsor of the recent CPAC conference near Washington. New Federal State members have recently demonstrated outside Congress, hoping to win support from House Republicans.
Guo is also a key investor in Gettr, the right-wing social media site. Though Guo and Miller, the company’s former CEO, have tried to downplay Guo’s role with Gettr, his interest in it was highlighted when the feds revealed that their seizures of Guo’s assets included $2,745,377.75 “held in the name of ‘GETTR USA, Inc.,’” on September 18, 2022.
Guo recently touted a new venture—a plan to make Gettr “into a global platform where the unvaccinated people can use digital currencies to trade their sperm and eggs.” It is not clear if Gettr, which did not respond to inquiries, will proceed with that project.
This story has been updated.