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Back in 2017, the banished Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui initiated a transformation in the United States as a rebellious public figure. Through TV appearances, social media posts, and extensive YouTube presentations, Guo unleashed diatribes against the corrupt Chinese Communist Party. This garnered him fame among digitally savvy Chinese expatriates and established him as a supporter of Steve Bannon and other influential figures in the Trump circle.

Guo marketed an image: A fabulously affluent, impeccably attired, conventional-breaking Bannon comrade leading a “whistleblower movement” with a daring objective to “dismantle the CCP” and set up his own alleged shadow government in Beijing.

However, the authenticity of Guo’s tale is now under scrutiny in the federal court in Manhattan, where he is being tried for deception and illicit money movements. During his opening statement on Friday, Assistant US Attorney Micah Fergenson presented compelling evidence suggesting that Guo—who is also known as Ho Wan Kwok and Miles Guo—misappropriated over $1 billion from his fervent supporters who invested in deceitful financial schemes devised by Guo between 2020 and 2021.

“Miles Guo orchestrated a straightforward scam on an extensive scale,” Fergenson remarked. “He lived a lifestyle of a billionaire using funds he illicitly acquired from individuals he ensnared and duped.”

The prosecution contends that Guo’s entire public persona is a sham – indicating that he does not genuinely oppose the regime nor is he as wealthy as alleged. Fergenson suggested on Friday that Guo’s movement and grievances against the CCP are, in reality, a narrative concocted to gain followers’ trust before deceiving them.

While the mogul amassed immense wealth as a Chinese property developer before fleeing to the US in 2015, Fergenson declared he faced financial difficulties after the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities confiscated most of his assets in 2017. That transpired “right before the fraudulent activity commenced,” Fergenson explained. “The defendant was in dire need of finances.”

Prosecutors assert that Guo’s criminal syndicate commenced in 2018 when he established, with Bannon by his side, two non-profit organizations supposedly dedicated to revealing corruption in China.

Guo’s lawyer Sabrina Shroff contended in her opening argument that Guo’s activism was sincere—the “fundamental essence of his being.” She maintained that his financial endeavors were genuine enterprises and integral components of a larger strategy to challenge the CCP.

“It was not a gamble,” Shroff stated. “It was not a deceit. It was not a fraud.”

Prosecutors allege that Guo’s fraudulent activities spanned four distinct investment schemes. He amassed hundreds of millions for a media enterprise named GTV. When the SEC effectively halted that “private offering,” Guo continued to amass funds by proposing opportunities to his supporters in numerous online factions he labeled “farms” to extend “loans” that would supposedly result in acquiring GTV shares. Subsequently, Guo established G|CLUBS, a purported “premium service” where annual dues between $10,000 and $50,000 gave members nothing concrete but the chance to invest yet again in other Guo-led enterprises.

Another stratagem entailed cryptocurrency in which Guo procured investments through extravagant and, as per prosecutors, thoroughly untrue claims, including a fabricated assertion that the currency was 20% supported by gold.

Guo pledged that all these initiatives were part of his crusade against the CCP and consistently assured investors of guaranteed profits. “These claims were falsehoods,” Fergenson maintained.

Prosecutors claimed that Guo utilized these funds to sustain the opulent lifestyle of an alleged billionaire, purchasing items such as a $2 million Bugatti, a $4 million Ferrari for his son, a $4 million mansion, a $35,000 mattress, and a $65,000 television.

The investors from the Chinese diaspora whom Guo, along with Bannon, professed to advocate for, were abandoned, unable to reclaim the savings they entrusted to Guo, Fergenson contended.

Shroff did not delve deeply into the particulars of Guo’s purported deception. Instead, she portrayed him as a visionary “ideas man” for his enterprises. She suggested that the operations were predominantly overseen by two subordinates who are also implicated in the case: William Je and Yvette Wang. This implies that the defense might propose that Guo was unaware of the wrongdoings by Wang, who confessed to wire fraud and money laundering charges the previous month, or Je, who is currently evading authorities. (Je has refuted any allegations of misconduct through a spokesperson.)

Shroff contended that Guo did not have any malicious intent.

Furthermore, Shroff mentioned that past attempts by the Chinese authorities to secure Guo’s extradition and other harassments by the CCP could elucidate some of his actions. As an illustration, she argued that Chinese agents once transferred money into Guo’s account using identities of individuals sanctioned by the Treasury Department, leading to a bank freezing Guo’s account. Therefore, his transfer of investors’ funds across various accounts under his control could be an endeavor to evade CCP persecutions, she posited.

Shroff criticized the prosecutors for accentuating the ostentatious elements of Guo’s acquisitions and advised the jurors not to condemn Guo based on “moral assessments” regarding conspicuous spending.

According to Shroff, spending substantial amounts on a G|CLUBS membership or $800 on anti-vaccine joggers sold by a fashion entity led by Guo, “signifies an individual’s autonomy, a freedom that the Chinese administration seeks to suppress.”

Shroff deemed the prosecutors’ contention that Guo swindled “the movement” he formed as irrational, stating, “because he embodies the movement.”