Prosecutor: Chinese man charged in $1B fraud ‘sociopathic’
Apr 4, 2023, 11:32 AM
NEW YORK (AP) — A Chinese businessman charged in a $1 billion fraud was labeled “sociopathic” by a prosecutor as a judge heard arguments Tuesday over whether any bail conditions could ensure he’d not flee or engage in illegal business practices while awaiting trial.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres did not immediately rule whether bail can be set for Guo Wengui, 54, who was arrested three weeks ago on charges including wire and securities fraud. He was charged in court papers under the name Ho Wan Kwok.
Guo, once thought to be among the richest people in China, left in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown as individuals close to him were ensnared, including a top intelligence official. Chinese authorities have accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other offenses.
Since then, he has been sought by that nation’s government. Guo has maintained that the allegations against him in China are false, saying they were intended to punish him for publicly outing corruption there and criticizing leading figures in the Communist Party.
Defense lawyer Stephen Cook acknowledged during Tuesday’s hearing that some facets of Guo’s life sound as if they come “from a spy novel,” noting the defendant has been targeted and harassed in his homeland for the last decade.
But Cook said the Chinese government’s relentless pursuit of his client means Guo must use cellphone scrambler devices and other electronic equipment to avoid hacks on his devices.
He said steps were necessary to “protect his ability to get his message out to the millions of followers he has around the world.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Finkel said Guo has left some victims among the thousands of investors in his frauds so traumatized at their ruined finances that they cry when they are interviewed by prosecutors.
He said Guo has the “uncanny ability to get victims to part with hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“The defendant’s fraud is, quite honestly, sociopathic,” Finkel said.
He said the potential that Guo might be convicted and sentenced to decades in prison gives him an “exceptionally compelling motive to flee.”
While living in New York as a fugitive, he became an outspoken critic of the ruling Communist Party and developed a close relationship with Steve Bannon, a onetime political strategist to former President Donald Trump. Guo and Bannon announced the founding of a joint initiative in 2020 that they said was aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government.
Guo’s lavish lifestyle has been a focus of prosecutors, who say he has a 50,000 square foot mansion, a $3.5 million Ferrari, two $36,000 mattresses and a $37 million luxury yacht.
Yet his lawyers, while maintaining Guo is broke, proposed a $25 million bail package, including $5 million in cash or property, along with location monitoring, an armed guard watching over him and home detention at a Connecticut residence where his wife resides.
Prosecutors say Guo can’t be trusted and that he has access to tens of millions of dollars despite claims he is unemployed, in bankruptcy proceedings and down to about $10,000 in assets that were not liquid cash.