Trial of Steve Bannon–Linked Chinese Mogul Set to Begin With Anonymous Jury

Prosecutors claim Guo Wengui has previously used his supporters to harass critics.

A collage with documents submitted by the prosecution paired with images of Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon.

Mother Jones; Don Emmert/AFP/Getty; Michael M. Santiago/Getty

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Opening statements in the trial of exiled Chinese mogul Guo Wengui are expected Friday with the selection of an anonymous jury consuming the first few days of the proceeding.

US District Court Judge Analisa Torres on Thursday told potential jurors their names would be kept private “to protect all of you from any unwanted attention.” She did not mention that she decided last month to anonymize them due to Guo’s past efforts to disrupt legal proceedings by dispatching his followers to protest outside the homes of legal adversaries and members of their families.

Guo, a former real estate developer once reportedly among China’s richest people, fled to the US in 2015. From a Manhattan penthouse that he bought for more than $67 million, with a reference letter from Tony Blair, he built a sprawling group of organizations he said aimed at deposing China’s Communist Party rulers, and gained a devoted following of tens of thousands of Chinese émigrés. With Steve Bannon, he founded the “New Federal State of China” which claims to be government-in-waiting set to take over governance in Beijing.

Guo has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, including securities fraud, wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions and conspiracy, including conspiracy to launder money. Though it is not among the charges against him, prosecutors argued last month that Guo also has used supporters to harass and threaten critics.

Guo’s lawyers are expected to say his financial maneuvers stemmed from his fear of the Communist Party, not a desire to cheat investors.

His lawyers did not oppose to anonymizing the jurors. Instead, they argued that such “protective measures are justified by the actions and potential actions” of the Chinese Communist Party against their client. That’s a preview of their expected plan to argue that Guo is a legitimate dissident whose unorthodox financial maneuvers resulted from his fear of CCP harassment, not a desire to cheat investors.

Guo, who has been jailed since his March 2023 arrest due to a perceived flight risk, seems eager to avoid coming off as menacing. He appeared in court on the 26th floor a Manhattan federal courthouse this week dressed in sharply styled suits, for which his attorneys had secured a court order—presumably so their client wouldn’t have to show up in prison garb. Guo also wore glasses, and donned headphones to listen to a translation of the proceedings. He’d shaved the beard he grew during his detention, and his thinning hair was neatly cropped. He smiled and waved at the journalists in the courtroom.

Guo had previously urged his followers not to assemble outside the courthouse, according to Qidong Xia, who is known among those followers as “Long Island David,” and who prosecutors say has been running Guo’s organization while the boss is detained.

But on Monday, Xia—who, like Bannon, is among the alleged co-conspirators prosecutors named in the case but have not charged—sent a message informing supporters that Guo would actually not object to them attending the trial. Xia said he had set up a system for them to register with the New Federal State organization and attend.  

On Wednesday and Thursday, about 20 Guo supporters assembled in an overflow room to watch the proceedings. Once the trial starts, they will be permitted to enter the courtroom. That’s notable, since several key witnesses are former members of Guo’s organization who are expected to testify about how he defrauded them and others.

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, one fan deployed a large speaker to broadcast a YouTube commentator claiming Guo was being prosecuted in the US at China’s behest. Other backers, hosts of news style video broadcasts distributed via Gettr, a right-leaning social media company that prosecutors say Guo controls, did live shots. One of the hosts, who identified himself as “Nick,” declined to speak with me. “Mother Jones is controlled by the CCP,” he said.

When I disputed his assertion, Nick had a ready answer.

“You’re probably not high-up enough to know,” he explained.

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