The outlandish life of Guo Wengui, once one of China’s richest men and Steve Bannon confidant whom the DOJ accuses of a billion-dollar fraud

Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui hold a news conference on November 20, 2018 in New York.DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images
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  • Chinese businessman Guo Wengui has been arrested on fraud charges.

  • He's a critic of the Chinese government and associate of Trumpist Republicans.

  • Guo is accused of stealing billions from followers to fund a luxury lifestyle.

Guo Wengui's life has been likened to a story from a spy thriller.

The controversial billionaire, once one of China's richest men, has positioned himself as an activist trying "to expose the leviathan Chinese mafia state."

An ally of Steve Bannon and other pro-Trump Republicans, Guo has also variously portrayed himself as a rapper, online influencer, crypto guru and real estate mogul.

The enigma around the billionaire deepened this week after US authorities charged the property tycoon with orchestrating a billion-dollar fraud.

Much of his background is still shrouded in mystery and Guo's exact purpose and loyalties are the subject of speculation and conspiracy theories.

Here's what we know about Guo and his outlandish lifestyle:

Guo grew up in a village in Xicaoying, in the Chinese province of Shandong

New tower blocks being constructed in Zhengzhou in 2007.Orjan F. Ellingvag/Dagens Naringsliv/Corbis via Getty Images

Guo was born into an impoverished family of eight in a mining town in Jilin Province.

"Sometimes we didn't even have firewood," Guo told the New York Times. "So we burned the wet twigs from the mountains — the smoke was so thick."

He then moved to Shandong province, where according to a New Yorker, he spent time in prison before launching his business career in Zhangzhou, Henan.

He met his wife and married her when he was only 15, she 14, the New York Times claims.


Guo made his fortune in China's real estate market before fleeing the country

Guo Wengui building
Pangu Plaza Tower 5, an office building in Beijing formerly owned by Guo WenguiZhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

In Zhengzhou, Guo founded the Zhengzhou Yuda Property Company and built city's tallest building, the Yuda International Trade Center.

His signature project, however, was the Pangu Plaza near Beijing's Birds Nest stadium.

But Guo claims he fell foul of powerful and corrupt officials, and fled the country in 2014, claiming asylum in the US in 2017.

Guo has himself been accused of corruption and fraud by Chinese authorities, charges he denies.

Guo was once one of the wealthiest men in China

Guo yacht
A 145-foot luxury yacht worth approximately $37 million which belonged to Guo Wengui is pictured in this image released as part of March 16 DOJ indictment.USDOJ

Guo is believed to have once been the 73rd richest person in China. His fortune was estimated at $1.1 billion in 2015.

Forbes said Guo's wealth was linked his real estate investments, and his control of a business that owned a stake in China's Founder Securities.

However he had a huge number of assets seized in Hong Kong in 2018, The South China Morning Post reported. 

Guo filed for bankruptcy in February 2022. He estimated that his assets had dropped to between $50,001 and $100,000.

Guo's New York apartment is a 9,000-square-foot $82 million penthouse overlooking Central Park

Guo in Manhattan
Billionaire Guo Wengui poses at his New York City apartment on November 28, 2017.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

The palatial apartment has been host to various journalists and political influencers.

It boasts six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, as well as a large terrace that wraps around the building.

Previous residents in the same building have including David Bowie and Diana Ross.

It has now become central to the case against Guo. A fire broke at the apartment on Wednesday as FBI agents were still searching it, after charging Guo with operating a billion-dollar fraud scheme.

According to the New York Post, the FBI is looking into whether the blaze may have been started remotely to destroy evidence.

Guo formed an alliance with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and brokered ties with influential right-wing figures

Guo Wengui, Steve Bannon
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (R) greets fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui on November 20, 2018 in New YorkDON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

Guo's alliance with Steve Bannon propelled him into elite Republican circles.

Bannon has long railed against the Chinese government, and in 2020 the pair formed the New Federal State of China, an organisation aimed at toppling China's Communist rulers.

Guo also joined Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago country club in Florida, and was among the funders of Gettr, the right-wing social media site created by former Trump aide Jason Miller.


He once starred in a music video where he shadowboxed on a luxury yacht to lyrics like 'take down the CCP'

Guo rapping
Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Guo, features in two music videos on YouTube.Screenshot/YouTube/郭文贵, 首尔喜马拉雅韩国农场

Guo is fond of appearing in music videos for self-penned rap and pop songs where he launches tirades against the Chinese Communist Party and extols the virtues of cryptocurrency.

In the videos, he poses on luxury yachts, smokes cigars, and does martial arts moves.

One of the tracks, 'Take Down The CCP,' is the soundtrack of Bannon's 'War Room' podcast.

No one is quite sure about Guo Wengui's real identity

FILE PHOTO: Billionaire businessman Guo Wengui speaks during an interview in New York City, U.S., April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
Billionaire businessman Guo Wengui speaks during an interview in New York.Thomson Reuters

Guo uses several names including Miles Guo, Miles Kwok and "Brother Seven".

According to the New York Times, Guo also sometimes goes by the name Guo Haoyun. He was named in the indictment unsealed Wednesday as Ho Wan Kwok.

Many of the property tycoon's biographical details also remain hazy.

China sought Guo's arrest, reportedly using casino magnate Steve Wynn as a go-between

Trump, Wynn
Former president Donald Trump speaks with casino developer Steve Wynn ain Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 6, 2019.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In 2017, China issued an Interpol notice for Guo's arrest on fraud charges.

According to the Wall Street Journal, casino magnate Steve Wynn delivered a letter from the Chinese government to then President Donald Trump in 2017, seeking Guo's extradition. The request was denied, with Trump reportedly believing Guo could be a useful "bargaining chip" in his confrontation with China.

China also launched an extensive online propaganda campaign against Guo, according to the BBC. 

It was on Guo's yacht in 2020 that Bannon was arrested on unrelated fraud charges

Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon leaves federal court, Thursday, Aug.20, 2020.AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Bannon was on board the 152 foot, $27 million, yacht off the coast of Connecticut when arrested by federal agents, Forbes reported. 

Bannon was accused of involvement in a $25 million scheme to defraud investors in a border wall, and was pardoned by Trump before he left office.

Bannon is not named in the new fraud case against Guo.

Guo has found himself embroiled in a series of lawsuits and controversies

Guo Wengui poses at his New York City apartment on November 28, 2017.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Guo's mysterious background and vast wealth have attracted speculation and conspiracy theories.

Guo has claimed that some Chinese dissidents living in the West are working for China, leading to their homes being picketed. This has drawn accusations that Guo is in fact a Chinese agent seeking to discredit them. He strongly denies the claims.

His financial affairs have also drawn the attention of prosecutors.

In 2021, Guo's GTV Media Group agreed to pay $539m to the Securities and Exchange Commission amid allegations it misled investors as part of a cryptocurrency scheme. The company did not admit wrongdoing in the case.

Guo last year filed for bankruptcy protections and put his Manhattan apartment up for sale, Bloomberg reported. 

Guo now stands accused of defrauding supporters out of billions as part of a complex fraud scheme

Guo in court
A courtroom sketch of Guo, who appeared on charges of leading a complex conspiracy to defraud his online followers out of more than $1 billion.REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Guo, along with an associate named William Je, is accused of wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.

Prosecutors say they raised more than $1 billion from thousands of followers who thought they were investing in a media venture, an exclusive members club, and cryptocurrency.

In a statement to the BBC, one of Guo's non-profits called the allegations "fabricated and unwarranted" and accused the US justice system of being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

According to reports, a mysterious fire engulfed his Manhattan apartment after his arrest.

With Guo's story likened to a spy thriller, it seems unlikely that this will be the final twist.

Read the original article on Business Insider