PanamaTimes

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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The US government has charged Chinese businessman Guo Wengui with leading a $1 billion fraud scheme that cheated thousands of followers out of their money.

Guo promised high investment returns but used the funds to support his lavish lifestyle, including purchasing a $37 million yacht, a $3.5 million Ferrari, and two $36,000 mattresses.

Authorities said Guo, with help from longtime financial adviser Kin Ming Je, cheated thousands of followers since 2018 by promising "outsized" investment returns, but diverting much of their money to fund lavish lifestyles for himself and his family.

The alleged improper purchases included a $37 million yacht, a 50,000 square-foot mansion in northern New Jersey, a $3.5 million Ferrari for Guo's son, a $62,000 TV, and two $36,000 mattresses, according to authorities.

Guo, 52, was charged with 11 criminal counts including securities fraud, wire fraud and concealment of money laundering, after "lining his pockets with the money he stole," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan said in a statement.

The defendant was arrested on Wednesday morning, and pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Katharine Parker, who ordered him detained without bail.

Guo wore a black shirt, black pants and brown shoes to the courtroom. He was not handcuffed, and brought his hands together in a prayer sign toward spectators before being led out.

Lawyers for Guo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. They will propose a "robust bail package," according to Tamara Giwa, a federal public defender who represented Guo at Wednesday's hearing. His next court appearance is April 4.



BANNON ASSOCIATE
Guo, who has used other names like Ho Wan Kwok and Miles Kwok, has been a business associate of Bannon, who was arrested in a fraud case in August 2020 while aboard Guo's yacht, the Lady May.

Trump pardoned Bannon in the final hours of his presidency. Bannon is not accused of wrongdoing in Guo's criminal case.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it seized and is seeking the forfeiture of $634 million of Guo's alleged fraud proceeds from 21 bank accounts, including several at the now-closed Silvergate Bank.

It said it also seized assets purchased with proceeds from Guo's alleged fraud, including a Lamborghini Aventador, and wants Guo to forfeit the yacht.

The criminal charges carry several decades of potential prison time. Guo also faces related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges.

Je, who lives in London and is also known as William Je, faces the same 11 criminal counts plus an obstruction charge. He is at large.

Guo is a prominent critic of China's Communist Party. He left that country in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown under President Xi Jinping, and has been accused there of crimes including bribery and money laundering. Guo has denied wrongdoing.



'SERIAL FRAUDSTER'
Following Guo's arrest, a fire broke out on the 18th floor at the Sherry-Netherland hotel, where he has an apartment, on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

A spokesman for New York City's fire department said no injuries were reported and officials were investigating. He declined to say if they were examining any connection to Guo's arrest.

Court papers filed on Wednesday described a web of offerings that according to prosecutors targeted investors aligned with Guo's policy objectives in China, and inclined to believe the self-proclaimed billionaire when it came to investing.

"We allege that Guo was a serial fraudster," SEC enforcement chief Gurbir

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