Mystery Surrounds Flamboyant, GOP-Linked Chinese Exile Billionaire

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon introduces fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui (L) at a news conference on November 20, 2018 in New York, on the death of of tycoon Wang Jian in France on July 3, ... Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon introduces fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui (L) at a news conference on November 20, 2018 in New York, on the death of of tycoon Wang Jian in France on July 3, 2018. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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This story has been updated. 

It’s even hard to pin down his name. 

And yet, self-proclaimed Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui has inserted himself into GOP politics, reportedly dodging a Chinese extradition request thanks to a Mar-a-Lago membership. And most recently, in a whiplash-inducing turn of events, Guo is now facing down allegations of being a spy for the same government that has demanded his extradition

Guo came to prominence in January 2017 when he launched a media campaign exposing corruption among high-ranking Chinese officials from the comfort of his Central Park-adjacent Manhattan apartment.

For that, he teamed up with Steve Bannon. And when his case caught the ire of Chinese officials demanding his return, Trump refused to deport him — reportedly in part because of his membership at Trump’s personal club. 

But in a New York court filing last week, Guo was accused by a former business client of being a double agent for China. That bombshell accusation, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was completely at odds with the existing narrative of Guo as a high-profile dissident of great concern to the Chinese government. In the new telling, which emerged in a contentious business lawsuit, Guo allegedly infiltrated hawkish conservative circles that support confrontation with China. Guo strenuously denies the allegations, calling them slanderous. 

Guo has multiple aliases, going by Miles Kwok and Guo Haoyun, as well. Guo has been in the U.S. since 2015 or 2017, depending on the account. A Chinese national who made his money in Beijing real estate, he claims to carry an Emirati passport. 

It’s hard to make sense of his story, so we take a look at the biggest mysteries of the Guo case below. 

Why Is He Here?

Guo has been perched in a $68 million apartment on the 18th floor of a Manhattan hotel.

The Chinese billionaire claims it’s a place of self-imposed exile. 

Guo fled China at some point in 2014 amid murky circumstances. President Xi Jingping was imprisoning numerous officials on corruption charges, and attention on a political sponsor of Guo’s reportedly moved him to leave the country. 

In September 2017, Guo applied for political asylum in the U.S., alleging persecution by Beijing for his increasingly outspoken opposition to the Communist Party. 

At around the same time, a Chinese employee of one of his companies sued him in New York state court alleging sexual assault. The Wall Street Journal also reported that a group of Chinese security officials visited him that year at his New York City apartment in an attempt to convince him to return, though that conversation also allegedly included veiled threats to his family. 

China’s official interest in Guo may be explained by the billionaire’s accusations about the Chinese government. Since arriving in the U.S., Guo appears to have flipped against Jingping and the Chinese elite, using social media to allege grand corruption in China while calling for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Most explosively, in January 2018 the Washington Free Beacon published a document of Guo’s that allegedly showed the Chinese government offering missiles to North Korea. 

To many observers, Guo’s behavior was motivated by the threat of prosecution in China. He made a bet that he could align himself with his newfound home, the United States.  

GOP Connections

Guo formed a strategic relationship with none other than former Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon in late 2017. 

United by a professed disdain for the Chinese leadership, the two formed a New York nonprofit called the “Rule of Law Fund,” supposedly aimed at leveraging $100 million to help the Chinese people live “independent of the political system of the People’s Republic of China.”

Guo and Bannon have also begun to appear in bizarre, multi-hour YouTube videos together over the past several months. 

In one July 14 clip, Bannon starts to discuss how “Xi Jingping has enslaved the Chinese people” while standing next to Guo in front of a black and white picture of what appears to be a lion in aviators smoking a cigarette.

The video is captioned: “Mr. Bannon and Wengui discuss: Why has the communist party gotten away with raping the US for 70 years?”

Other influential Republicans have gotten involved as well. 

As the Wall Street Journal reported in October 2017, Guo was nearly sent back to China that year after Macao casino mogul Steve Wynn hand-delivered a letter from Beijing to Trump, demanding Guo’s deportation.

Trump reportedly declined the request after learning that Guo was a member of Mar-a-Lago. 

Elliot Broidy, the GOP fundraiser currently under federal investigation, reportedly sought Guo’s removal as part of a separate representation involving Malaysia. The New York Times cited a person close to Broidy as saying that his interest in the case stemmed from his “friendship with Steve Wynn.”

A Strange Court Case

Contributing to the mystery surrounding Guo is an ongoing civil lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan that arguably raises more questions than it answers.

Strategic Vision US LLP, a private intelligence firm that claims to have been hired by Guo is now locked in a legal battle with the Hong Kong-based Eastern Profit Corporation.

In a Friday counterclaim, Strategic Vision accused Guo of being a double agent for the Chinese government. The firm alleged that the campaign with Bannon to expose high-level corruption is an elaborate sham for Guo to infiltrate conservative policy circles that support confrontation with China.

In a statement to TPM, Guo attorney Daniel Podhaskie accused Strategic Vision of “abusing the litigation privilege to slander,” saying that the claims “utterly lack credibility.” Guo is not a party to the suit, Podhaskie pointed out, despite a failed attempt by Strategic Vision to name him. Guo has won two defamation cases in Maryland and Virginia over similar espionage accusations, Podhaskie said.

The case has its roots in an attempt the Hong Kong firm made in January 2018 to hire the private intelligence firm to research a list of people that allegedly had suspected ties to the Chinese government. The Wall Street Journal reported that Guo hired Strategic Vision; he denied the claim.

According to a copy of the contract, Strategic Vision was hired to uncover details on the targets’ “family, extramarital affairs, children born out of wedlock,” as well as their habits on “dating or sexual services apps,” and porn-watching preferences, in addition to tracing the targets’ financial records.

It’s not clear if this effort was at all tied to the work with Bannon, or what Guo may have been trying to achieve.

The Hong Kong firm sued Strategic Vision in March 2018, demanding that the firm return a $1 million payment he made after it provided him with information culled from Wikipedia.

Strategic Vision has hit back with a series of counterclaims in the same lawsuit, though an initial counterclaim that named Guo was dismissed by the court.

The most recent one says that Guo duped the firm into targeting Chinese dissidents in the U.S.

Strategic Vision is run by French Wallop, the ex-wife of former Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-WY), who has been happy to hit out at Guo publicly.

Ties to a conservative think tank

Strategic Vision has accused Guo and Bannon of attempting to move “large amounts of funding” into the Center for Security Policy, a far-right D.C. think tank that pursues a hawkish line with China.

CSP is run by the notorious islamophobe Frank Gaffney, known for spreading conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood and Islam in general. Gaffney, for example, once convinced the NRA to investigate whether anti-tax radical Grover Norquist was secretly a Muslim Brotherhood mole.

CSP – and Gaffney’s – links to anti-Muslim hatred haven’t stopped it from gaining purchase within the GOP.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) promised to appoint Gaffney as his national security adviser, while President Trump cited debunked CSP data in his call for a ban on Muslim immigration. 

But on China policy, CSP has recently started to run a program called the Committee on the Present Danger, focused on spurring the U.S. government into taking a more hostile line towards China. Events with the committee have included appearances with Cruz at conferences in D.C. and New York City.

The latest counterclaim accuses Bannon and Guo of plotting to commandeer the committee, with its anti-China stance. It offers no evidence to support that assertion, instead relying on anonymous staffers at the think tank.

A CSP spokesman told TPM that the accusations in the filing were “false.”

Podhaskie, Guo’s attorney, emphasized to TPM in the statement that Guo’s “goal is one-fold: to take down the CCP,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

“As such, he has put all of his available resources to that end – to take down this murderous dictatorship and free his fellow countrymen in China,” he added.

This story has been updated to reflect that the court filing was made in New York, and not Florida. 

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