(NEW YORK) — Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire with business ties to Steve Bannon, faces federal fraud charges out of New York, as authorities investigate a fire that broke out at his apartment hours following his arrest on Wednesday.
Guo owned the 152-foot-long yacht Lady May on which Bannon was arrested in August 2020.
Guo and Bannon have been under investigation in connection with GTV Media Group, which the Securities and Exchange Commission previously accused of violating securities laws.
The FBI arrested Guo, also known as Ho Wan Kwok, Wednesday morning in New York on charges he orchestrated a $1 billion fraud.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.
Guo retained defense attorneys Josh Klein and Guy Petrillo though was represented at his arraignment by a federal defender, who entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Guo consented to detention, though the federal defender said his retained attorneys plan to propose a “robust bail package.” He is next scheduled to appear in court on April 4.
The SEC filed civil charges Wednesday that accused Guo and his financial adviser, Kin Ming Je, of “multiple offering frauds” that targeted retail investors through online and social media posts and videos.
“Since in or about April 2020, Guo has conducted fraudulent securities offerings that have collectively raised at least hundreds of millions of dollars from investors in the United States and around the world. Unbeknownst to those investors, Guo and his financial adviser, Je, misappropriated a large portion of the funds raised from certain of the Subject Offerings in order to enrich themselves and their family members,” the SEC complaint said.
Guo, 54, pitched three unregistered securities offerings to investors as a means of obtaining shares in GTV and a fourth offering as a means to obtain a crypto asset security called “H-Coin” that he falsely claimed was backed by gold reserves, the SEC said.
Authorities are working to determine whether a two-alarm fire at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel is linked to the arrest of Guo, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News. FBI agents were still inside Guo’s apartment at the time the fire broke out at 12:02 p.m., sources told ABC News.
Guo was arrested at 6 a.m. at his $32 million apartment in the building. Agents were forced to evacuate when the fire broke out six hours later.
Firefighters were called just after noon for a fire on the 18th floor, according to the FDNY. There was significant damage to Guo’s 15-room penthouse, sources said.
No one was injured in the fire.
There was no reference to the fire during Guo’s arraignment hearing.
The FDNY is currently investigating the cause of the fire and, if it’s deemed suspicious or intentional, will refer such findings to the appropriate authorities.
Guo, a critic of the Chinese government, fled China in 2014 and is viewed as a fugitive by the PRC. He appeared on Forbes’ Billionaires List in 2015, worth an estimated $1.1 billion, but declared bankruptcy in February 2022.
Bannon helped Guo found GTV, but has not been charged.
Bannon is currently being prosecuted by the Manhattan district attorney for defrauding donors to the We Build the Wall online fundraising campaign.
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