WASHINGTON D.C.: The US government has charged exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui with being the mastermind behind a complex conspiracy to defraud online followers.
Authorities said that 52-year-old Guo, who has ties to former President Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, cheated thousands of followers out of more than $1 billion since 2018 by promising "outsized" investment returns.
Guo diverted most of his investor's money to fund a lavish lifestyle, with help from longtime financial adviser Kin Ming Je, according to authorities.
Officials said that Guo's fraudulent purchases included a $37 million yacht and a 50,000 square-foot mansion in northern New Jersey.
In a statement, US Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan said that Guo, 52, was charged with 11 criminal counts, including securities fraud, wire fraud and concealment of money laundering, after "lining his pockets with the money he stole."
Guo was arrested last week and pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court before US Magistrate Judge Katharine Parker, who ordered him detained without bail.
A total of $634 million of Guo's alleged fraud proceeds from 21 bank accounts, including several at the now-closed Silvergate Bank, have been seized by the US Department of Justice.
If found guilty, the criminal charges against Guo could result in his being sent to prison for decades. He also faces US Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges.
Guo, who is a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party, left China in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown under President Xi Jinping, and has been accused of crimes, including bribery and money laundering, by Chinese authorities.