The self-exiled Chinese tycoon on whose 45-meter yacht President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was arrested is a high-profile irritant to the ruling Communist Party.
Guo Wengui left China in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping that ensnared people close to Guo, including a top intelligence official. Chinese authorities have accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other offences.
A former civil servant turned real estate developer, Guo has rankled the ruling party by launching accusations of corruption on social media. From his base in a Manhattan luxury apartment, he has been especially critical of Vice President Wang Qishan, a Xi ally and key figure in the party’s anti-corruption drive.
Bannon, who was arrested on Thursday, was charged along with three others with defrauding online donors in the name of helping build Trump’s southern border wall. Bannon pleaded not guilty at a hearing Thursday in Manhattan.
In June, Guo and Bannon announced the founding of the “Federal State of New China”, an initiative to “overthrow the Chinese government”.
Guo, also known as Miles Kwok, was one of China’s richest businesspeople, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at USD 1.1 billion in 2015.
His most prominent asset was Pangu Plaza, an office-and-hotel complex overlooking Beijing’s Olympic Stadium.
Guo paid USD 67.5 million in 2015 for his 9,000-square foot (850-square meter) apartment above Central Park and joined Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The status of Guo’s fortune is unclear. Assets in China have been frozen or confiscated. He is trying to sell his Manhattan apartment; the asking price was cut this year to USD 55 million. His yacht, the Lady May, is for sale for nearly USD 28 million.
Guo told The Associated Press in 2017 his goal was to win the release of family members, employees and assets in China, not to undermine the Communist Party.
Also in 2017, however, his lawyer said Guo had applied for political asylum in the United States. Even if the claim is ultimately rejected, that might let Guo stay in the country for years while it is reviewed and during possible appeals.