Chinese billionaire and proclaimed dissident Guo Wengui was arrested Wednesday and charged with defrauding thousands of followers out of more than $1 billion through complex investment schemes, US prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Guo, a staunch critic of the Chinese government who is exiled in Manhattan and close to former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, was taken into custody in New York on Wednesday morning. He is charged with defrauding or misappropriating investor money using different schemes, including his media company GTV Media Group, a farm loan program through Himalaya Farm Alliance, and a cryptocurrency called Himalaya Coin.
Guo is also known as Ho Wan Kwok and Miles Guo.
Prosecutors said instead of using the money the way he promised potential investors, Guo directed the funds to invest in a hedge fund to benefit GTV and a relative, to cover the maintenance payments for his $37 million, 145-foot luxury yacht, a New Jersey mansion and a custom-built Bugatti sports car valued at $4.4 million.
A federal judge denied bail after Guo consented to detention.
Meanwhile, a fire broke out in Guo’s apartment when the FBI was on site executing a search warrant earlier Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesman for the US attorney’s office, Nicholas Biase, said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
CNN has reached out to Guo’s lawyer for comment.
Guo co-founded two nonprofit organizations, the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society, that prosecutors allege he used to attract a following who believed in many of his ideas.
Those nonprofits were linked to a group promoting the theory that the novel coronavirus was likely engineered in a Chinese lab. The Rule of Law organizations were co-founded by Guo and Bannon.
Bannon has not been charged in this case.
Bannon was arrested in 2020 on Guo’s yacht on unrelated fraud charges stemming from a border wall fundraising effort. Bannon was pardoned by Trump but indicted on similar state charges. Bannon has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors said they have seized $634 million from 21 bank accounts and a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster.
In addition to criminal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, international money laundering and obstruction of justice, Guo was also sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission.