Fugitive Chinese billionaire accused of being a spy in US court papers
World / 24 July 2019, 07:53am / Sarah Blaskey and Jay Weaver, Miami Herald
Miami - A high-profile Chinese fugitive -who belongs to President Donald Trump's exclusive South Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, and has railed against China's communist government - is accused of being a spy for that very regime, according to new documents filed in a federal court case in New York.
Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, who also goes by Miles Kwok, fled to the United States four years ago after learning an associate had been arrested on corruption charges. He is now one of China's most-wanted, accused of myriad crimes by the Chinese government, including paying bribes and sexual assault. He maintains his innocence, saying the charges are politically motivated.
Guo, who made his money in real estate, has long promoted himself as a dissident being hunted by the Chinese government for his opposition to the ruling Chinese Communist Party. He is currently seeking political asylum in the United States, where he reportedly avoided deportation by the Trump administration after the president learned Guo was a member of Mar-a-Lago.
Now, filings in a civil case, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, suggest Guo may not be the dissident he claims. "Instead, Guo Wengui was, and is, a dissident-hunter, propagandist, and agent in the service of the People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party," according to federal court papers filed on Friday.
The Chinese spy allegations against Guo surfaced last week in a contract dispute - rife with international and political intrigue - between a Hong Kong-based company, Eastern Profit Corporation Limited, and an Arlington, Virginia, research firm, Strategic Vision US, LLC.
Guo denied the allegations through his attorney, saying the claim "utterly lacks credibility."
"This lawsuit is about a contract between Eastern Profit and Strategic. Strategic is now abusing the litigation privilege to slander Mr. Guo," wrote Guo's attorney, Daniel Podhaskie, in a response to the Miami Herald. He claimed the slander was retaliation after Strategic's counterclaim was dismissed. Podhaskie pointed to Guo's frozen assets in China as proof that he is not working with the Communist Party.
In the lawsuit, Eastern Profit says it hired Strategic Vision last year to investigate 15 unnamed individuals after holding several meetings at Guo's ritzy apartment at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan. The research firm said it had considerable experience in the field, citing probes of the personal lives of Republican politicians, a Middle Eastern prince, and a Russian official in the opposition party.
But Eastern claims that Strategic Vision failed to deliver the private information on the 15 Chinese nationals operating in the United States after being paid an initial 1 million dollars for the promised "high-quality original research," according to the federal suit filed last year in the Southern District of New York.
Strategic Vision, headed by CEO French Wallop, the widow of the late Wyoming GOP Senator Malcolm Wallop, was fired by Eastern Profit in February 2018 after the research firm provided information that was mostly publicly available on the probe's targets, the suit says. Eastern Profit demanded the return of its 1-million-dollar deposit for the research work, accusing Strategic Vision of breaching their contract.
Strategic filed a counterclaim not only against Eastern Profit but also against Guo, alleging he is actually a Chinese government spy whose "origin story is untrue."
In the counterclaim, Strategic Vision, called Guo a "representative" of Eastern Profit, and accused the billionaire of giving the research firm a thumb drive loaded with malware. Strategic claimed Guo was seeking sensitive information on Chinese nationals who were actually assisting the U.S. government's counter-intelligence efforts.
"Strategic Vision proved its counterclaim with mountains of publicly available information," said the research firm's attorney, Edward Greim, in a statement provided to the Miami Herald.
"(The evidence) showed that Mr. Guo was detained in China on the date he claims to have arrived in the U.S. in early 2015, that he sent hundreds of millions of dollars back and forth between China and the U.S. for years after Chinese authorities supposedly starting seizing his assets, and that he's used scores of lawsuits to engage in seemingly sham disputes against Chinese regime-connected entities while simultaneously filing very real lawsuits against legitimate Chinese dissidents to destroy their reputations and drain their finances."
The allegations against Guo - that he's some sort of double agent uncovering real dissidents for the Chinese government - come as the FBI continues to investigate possible Chinese espionage at Mar-a-Lago. The ongoing federal probe gained new momentum when, on March 30, Yujing Zhang, a 33-year-old Chinese national, was arrested and charged with trespassing and lying to a federal agent after she tried to enter Mar-a-Lago with various cover stories.
According to authorities, she was carrying a trove of electronics, including a thumb drive authorities claimed was infested with malware. Recent secret filings in the Zhang case suggest federal authorities have information about Zhang that could endanger national security, should anyone but the judge view it.
Zhang had initially bought a ticket to an event at Mar-a-Lago that was being promoted by South Florida massage parlor entrepreneur, Li "Cindy" Yang. The event was canceled after the Herald revealed Yang was selling access to the president and his family through Mar-a-Lago events that she promoted on Chinese social media.
Zhang was aware of the cancellation before arriving in Florida. Now, both Zhang and Yang are at the center of the broader federal counter-intelligence effort in South Florida. Yang is also the focus of a separate campaign finance investigation by the Department of Justice.
It is unclear whether Guo is in any way involved in the counterintelligence investigation.
Top Senate Democrats are renewing calls for federal authorities to assess potential security risks posed by Mar-a-Lago's status as a club where 200,000 dollars buys a membership with nearly unlimited access to the president's South Florida home.
"I do not know the guy at all," longtime Mar-a-Lago member George Lombardi told the Miami Herald. "But I can say that the events that took place in Mar-a-Lago months ago reflect the fact that there are a few individuals that may live in the USA but they have pledged their alliance to other countries." Still, Lombardi said he was not worried by the news.
The Trump Organization, which runs Mar-a-Lago, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Guo was photographed at Mar-a-Lago in December 2018, walking his beloved tiny white dog around the grounds. At the time, the president's wife, Melania, and other members of the family were popping in and out of the club to attend various holiday events. President Trump was in Washington at the time due to the government shutdown.
The picture of Guo, his dog, and an unidentified female companion was snapped by Claude Taylor, an anti-Trump activist, who was driving a boat up the Intracoastal Waterway. On board Taylor's boat was a large inflatable rat, with hair and suit that made it look like Donald Trump.
"We were just having fun, creating mischief," Taylor told the Herald.
As he blasted a classic rock song - "I Fought the Law" by the Clash - Taylor saw Guo and the female companion walking the dog near the club's seawall. While Taylor snapped photos of Guo, the billionaire started taking pictures of the boat. Taylor logged onto Mar-a-Lago's unsecured guest Wi-Fi, and a while later received a contact from inside the club. The contact included one photo of Guo inside Mar-a-Lago reading a newspaper, and another with Taylor's rat boat behind him, which Taylor assumed was taken by Guo's female companion.
"He wants as many people as possible to know he is a member in good standing," Taylor remembers thinking at the time. "He's a fugitive from justice who has asylum claims and he's using as leverage his association with Mar-a-Lago to bolster his asylum claim."
"Mr. Guo is the most wanted dissident worldwide by the Chinese Communist Party and has been their most outspoken and vitriolic critic since his arrival in the United States," according to Podhaskie, Guo's attorney.
The Chinese government has apparently gone to considerable lengths to try to bring Guo back to mainland China.
On May 24, 2017, several Chinese officials went to Guo's home - a 67-million-dollar Manhattan penthouse - in an effort to persuade him to drop his activism and return to China, according to an audio recording of the meeting reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The officials were traveling in the United States on visas that did not permit official business, prompting a behind-the-scenes skirmish between the FBI and State Department on whether to arrest them as they left the country, according to the Journal. In the end, the State Department's fears of sparking an international incident won out, and the Chinese officials left the country without incident.
Around the same time, Republican National Committee Finance Chairman Steve Wynn, a casino magnate and longtime associate of Trump's with business interests in Macau, a special administrative region of China, reportedly hand-delivered a letter to the president on behalf of the Chinese government. It requested that the United States deport Guo back to China. (Wynn denied the story through his lawyer, when asked for comment by the Journal). Trump appeared ready to grant China's request until his aides dissuaded him by telling him that Guo was a member of Mar-a-Lago, according to the Journal.
Guo is known to be one of China's most eccentric billionaires and has spent his life mired in controversy. Guo's official Facebook page is filled with videos of himself demonstrating his various workout routines and anti-Chinese Communist Party content - like one recent video in which he interviews former senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon on U.S.-Chinese relations over dinner.
The unlikely duo met while Bannon worked in the White House as Trump's chief strategist, according to Bannon, who spoke at a news conference last year where he announced he was joining Guo's effort to expose Chinese corruption around the globe.
During the news conference, Guo and Bannon alleged that the Chinese government was involved in the death of another Chinese billionaire, Wang Jian, former chairman of the HNA Group, who fell to his death on July 4, 2018, while vacationing in the south of France. French officials ruled the death an accident and claimed there was no evidence pointing to suicide.
However, Guo said at the news conference that he had commissioned a private investigation into Wang's fall that turned up several anomalies, including how his bodyguards reacted by giving the dying man facial acupuncture.
Together, Guo and Bannon launched the Rule of Law Foundation, which they said would collect evidence in cases of deaths like Wang's, according to the South China Morning Post.
"Mr. Guo has consistently emphasized his one goal: to take down the CCP (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," Guo's lawyer told the Herald.