Chinese businessman Guo Wengui goes on trial in US over alleged US$1 billion fraud scheme

A wealthy Chinese businessman who left China a decade ago and became a US-based outspoken critic of his homeland’s Communist Party went on trial in New York on Wednesday for what prosecutors say were multiple frauds that cheated hundreds of thousands of people worldwide of over US$1 billion.

Guo Wengui, 57, once believed to be among the richest people in China, sat with his lawyers in Manhattan federal court as jury selection began for a trial projected to last seven weeks.

He pleaded not guilty after his March 2023 arrest for what prosecutors say was a five-year fraud scheme that began in 2018.

Judge Analisa Torres told dozens of prospective jurors crowded into a courtroom that they were being considered for a jury that will decide the fate of 12 criminal charges alleging that Guo operated four fraudulent investment schemes.

Guo Wengui sits as he appears at a courthouse in New York in March 2023. Courtroom sketch: Jane Rosenberg via Reuters

By lunchtime, half of them had been dismissed after they provided reasons a lengthy trial would create a hardship.

Still, it was likely that opening statements would occur on Thursday.

Torres told the possible jurors that they will be partially anonymous, meaning they will be referred to in court only by their juror numbers, although defence lawyers, prosecutors and the judge and her staff will know their identities.

When Torres ruled last month that the jury would be partially anonymous, she noted that she had already concluded that Guo had shown a willingness to tamper with judicial proceedings by posting videos and releasing social media encouraging followers to “persevere” with protests at homes and offices of a bankruptcy trustee and his lawyer.

Guo, who has been held without bail, left China in 2014 during a crackdown on corruption that ensnared individuals close to him, including a top intelligence official.

Chinese authorities accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other crimes, but Guo said those allegations were false and designed to punish him for publicly revealing corruption as he criticised leading figures in the Communist Party.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon greets fugitive Chinese businessman Guo Wengui before introducing him at a news conference in New York in November 2018. Photo: AFP

While living in New York in recent years, Guo developed a close relationship with former US president Donald Trump’s one-time political strategist, Steve Bannon. In 2020, Guo and Bannon announced a joint initiative to overthrow the Chinese government.

Earlier this month, Guo’s chief of staff, Yvette Wang, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Guo and others to fraudulently induce investors to send money through entities and organisations including Guo’s media company, GTV Media Group Inc, and his so-called Himalaya Farm Alliance and the Himalaya Exchange, in return for stock or cryptocurrency.

She awaits sentencing in September, when she could face up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors say hundreds of thousands of investors were convinced to invest more than US$1 billion into entities Guo controlled.

When he was first charged in Manhattan, prosecutors identified him as “Ho Wan Kwok”, but they recently changed how they refer to him in court papers, saying “Miles Guo” is how he is commonly known.



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