Chinese businessman seeks bail in $1 billion fraud case

Mar 31, 2023, 4:24 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Lawyers for a wealthy self-exiled Chinese businessman who developed ties to Trump administration figures including Steve Bannon are seeking bail for him two weeks after his arrest, saying other defendants accused of massive frauds like Bernard Madoff and Sam Bankman-Fried were freed on bail.

The lawyers submitted papers in Manhattan federal court, saying Guo Wengui is entitled to bail just as other wealthy defendants have been given the chance to post bail in the past. They also challenged claims by prosecutors that he is a risk to flee, saying he would not leave his wife of 38 years and his daughter as all three seek asylum.

Madoff was free for several months in late 2008 and early 2009 before he was jailed after he pleaded guilty in a multibillion-dollar fraud. He was later sentenced to 150 years in prison and died behind bars.

Bankman-Fried, 31, was arrested in the Bahamas in December in what a prosecutor called one of biggest frauds in American history. He agreed to return to the United States, where he was freed with GPS monitoring on a $250 million personal recognizance bond after pleading not guilty to charges that he oversaw a massive cryptocurrency fraud.

Guo’s lawyers proposed a $25 million bail package, including $5 million in cash or property, along with location monitoring and home detention at a Connecticut residence where his wife resides. They also said Guo would be subjected to 24-hour surveillance by a security company with at least one guard on the premises at all times.

A spokesperson for prosecutors declined comment Friday.

Prosecutors filed a detention letter at the time of Guo’s arrest, saying he was a serious flight risk and a danger to the public because his crimes, which they said resulted in robbing thousands of individuals of money, were “ongoing and continually evolving.” They said he was likely to flee because of his wealth, strong proof of guilt and ties abroad.

Guo, 54, was arrested on various charges, including wire, securities and bank fraud on March 15 in what was described as a $1 billion fraud. He agreed to be detained at the time, but a lawyer indicated bail would later be sought.

Guo’s lawyers wrote that since immigrating to the United States in 2015, Guo traveled abroad only three times and not once since 2017. They said Chinese authorities would cause him to “face intolerable risks to his life” were he to leave the United States. They also wrote that he was not a danger to others, especially with strict bail conditions.

Prosecutors said the charges stemmed from a complex scheme in which Guo and others lied to hundreds of thousands of online followers before misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the time of Guo’s arrest, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Guo had lived lavishly off the proceeds of his crimes, including by purchasing a 50,000-square-foot mansion, a $3.5 million Ferrari, two $36,000 mattresses and a $37 million luxury yacht.

Guo was once believed to be among the richest people in China. He left 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 offenses.

Guo has long argued that the allegations against him in China were false, saying they were intended to punish him for publicly outing corruption there and criticizing leading figures in the Communist Party.

It was on Guo’s 150-foot (45-meter) yacht that Bannon was once arrested on federal charges. Just before he left office, then-President Donald Trump made the case against Bannon dissolve with a pardon.

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Chinese businessman seeks bail in $1 billion fraud case