Exiled tycoon Guo Wengui arrested in New York, charged with $1B fraud

U.S. authorities on Wednesday arrested and charged exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui with conspiring to defraud his followers of more than $1 billion.

The Justice Department said that Guo, also known as Miles Kwok, diverted funds from thousands of followers who had been promised high returns on investments, and used those funds to pay for his own lavish lifestyle.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York accused Guo of “lining his pockets with the money he stole, including buying himself, and his close relatives, a 50,000 square foot mansion, a $3.5 million Ferrari, and even two $36,000 mattresses, and financing a $37 million luxury yacht,” a department statement said.

Guo, 52, is charged with 11 criminal counts, including securities fraud, wire fraud and concealment of money laundering. His financier, Hong Kong-U.K. dual citizen King Min Je, is accused of helping in the fraud and has also been charged.

The Justice Department said it seized and is seeking the forfeiture of $634 million of Guo’s alleged fraud proceeds from 21 bank accounts.

Guo is a prominent critic of the Chinese communist government. He has ties to Steve Bannon, an adviser to former U.S. President Donald Trump. He left China in 2014, and also faces criminal charges in that country but denies wrongdoing. He has lived in the United States since around 2015.

Guo was arrested on Wednesday morning in New York, while the financier Je remains at large, the Justice Department said. 

Reuters reported that Guo pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court Wednesday and was ordered detained without bail. Lawyers for Guo did not immediately respond to requests for comment, the news agency reported. His next court appearance is April 4.

Amendment grants Myanmar junta sweeping new powers under Anti-Terrorism Law

Myanmar’s junta has expanded its ability to target those who seek its removal from power by sharpening the teeth of law that it’s already used to jail hundreds of people since seizing power in a coup d’etat two years ago.

The addendum to the Anti-Terrorism Law issued on March 1 allows authorities to eavesdrop on suspects, confiscate their assets and take other steps to crush the opposition, experts say.

The junta will use the amended law to enable its forces to commit atrocities and brand any actions by rebels with the People’s Defense Force or other groups as terrorism, said Than Soe Naing, a political analyst.

“The junta is trying to make its crimes – such as burning down villages, confiscating civilian properties and killing their cattle for food – acceptable under their laws,” he said.

The provisions were added to the Anti-Terrorism Law that was enacted in 2014 under then-President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government. The changes – 20 chapters and 120 articles – were published in the junta’s Myanmar Alinn newspaper in a series of segments beginning on March 10, and signed by junta Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Soe Htut.

One chapter details the confiscation and control of assets belonging to terrorist groups or individuals and organizations associated with them. Another chapter spells out how authorities can take control of a suspect’s assets as part of an investigation, including their bank accounts.

Another provision adds protections for witnesses of the prosecution, including the ability to testify via video conferencing to avoid facing the accused in the courtroom.

Surveillance powers

Six articles in Chapter 14 provide authorities with sweeping new powers over digital information, including the ability to intercept, monitor, cut off and restrict communications, as well as to pinpoint the location of a suspect. Such information can now be used in investigations into terrorism or the financing of terrorism, and may be submitted as evidence in a court of law.

An IT technician with an opposition group who declined to be named told RFA that while government agencies around the world monitor telecommunications as part of criminal investigations, in Myanmar they are only monitored to investigate the junta’s opposition.

“You might be under surveillance unknowingly. If someone transfers some money to us for some reason, it could be confiscated without us even knowing,” he said.

“One must bear in mind that even if you are not involved in anti-junta activities, you may be among those under surveillance by the military regime.”

In this March 7, 2021 photo, public health students display placards supporting the CRPH (Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or Committee of Representatives to the Union Parliament) during a march against the military junta in Mandalay, Myanmar. (AP Photo)
In this March 7, 2021 photo, public health students display placards supporting the CRPH (Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or Committee of Representatives to the Union Parliament) during a march against the military junta in Mandalay, Myanmar. (AP Photo)

According to the new provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Law, authorities can monitor and restrict digital information for up to 60 days on a single approval and can extend such activities “if required.”

Cutting off support

Lawyers and political analysts told RFA the new law is aimed at cutting off public support for the country’s shadow National Unity Government and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or shadow parliament, as well as the People’s Defense Force – three organizations that the military regime has declared terrorist groups. 

But Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, which is made up of former military officers, said that if the provisional law is followed to the letter, it will help to facilitate peace in the country.

“The law has been enacted already – we just have to wait and see how much can be done according to this law,” he said. “If this law can be applied accordingly, I am sure that the violence and conflicts in Myanmar can be controlled to a certain extent.”

But a lawyer who spoke to RFA on the condition that his name not be used noted that, immediately following the coup, the junta suspended laws prohibiting law enforcement agencies from monitoring and restricting digital communications.

“We already have laws that protect the basic human rights of citizens, but the junta announced a temporary suspension of those laws,” the lawyer said.

“Now, they have enacted a new law to eavesdrop on and intercept people’s telecommunications. This means that they no longer need to consider the rights of the people while conducting an investigation.”

In this March 27, 2021 photo, anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingered salute, a symbol of resistance during a demonstration in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo)
In this March 27, 2021 photo, anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingered salute, a symbol of resistance during a demonstration in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo)

Lawyers and political analysts also noted that the junta has tried to use the Anti-Terrorism Law as a tool to manipulate the country by appointing new judges to the Supreme Court, suspend existing laws, finalize a controversial cybersecurity bill, and issue various decrees and restrictions.

According to a March 3 report by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, authorities have killed nearly 3,000 people and arrested some 18,000 others in the two years since the coup. Armed conflict is actively affecting at least 255 of Myanmar’s 330 townships, the report found.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

Kem Sokha’s lawyers told to seek prosecutors’ permission before seeing him

Lawyers for opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason earlier this month, have been told to seek permission from prosecutors before they can meet with him, complicating efforts to mount an appeal.

Kem Sokha’s lawyers attempted to see him on Tuesday at his Phnom Penh residence but were blocked by plain-clothed guards.

The move is another example of hurdles thrown up in front of opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s leader since 1985, ahead of July elections. In multiple cases, courts have convicted and sentenced opposition leaders, effectively neutering any opposition to Hun Sen’s power structure.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that the lawyers should have sought permission from court prosecutors before seeing Kem Sokha, who is under house arrest and has 30 days from his March 3 conviction to file an appeal.

The actions violate a client’s right to see a lawyer, his lawyers wrote in a statement on Tuesday. 

“Co-defense lawyers can’t do what was requested, which is contracted by law and by professional code of conduct,” they wrote. “From today’s date, co-defense lawyers can’t perform their duties and responsibilities before Kem Sokha and his case.

“Kem Sokha’s right to get a lawyer is seriously violated unless there is positive reform in a timely manner,” they wrote.

A statement from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said it had not yet received a request from Kem Sokha’s lawyers. The statement referenced the judge’s verdict that said any visits must be granted by the prosecutors.

Even when lawyers want to see their clients inside the prisons, they need to seek permission from prison officials, Chin Malin said on Facebook.

“It is not wrong to seek permission from the prosecutors because it has been noted in the court’s verdict,” he wrote. “Only if the prosecutors deny permission to the lawyers would it be a violation of the right to a lawyer.”

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In this Jan. 19, 2022 photo, former Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha, second from left, enters the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Heng Sinith/AP)

Another effort to silence

But lawyers have the right to see their clients inside prisons or wherever they want, according to Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, or Licadho

“If the lawyers need permission every time for their visits, it will affect their client’s case,” he said. 

Authorities’ actions this week have violated the law as well as Kem Sokha’s rights – the court’s conditions in this case can’t supersede the law, he said. 

Requiring lawyers to seek permission for a meeting is a politically motivated act, political analyst Kim Sok said. He added that Kem Sokha’s case won’t be seen as legally proper if he isn’t allowed to see his lawyers. 

The charges against Kem Sokha relate partly to a video recorded in 2013 in which he discussed a strategy to win power with the help of U.S. experts. He has denied the treason charges since they were first filed in 2017.

The March 3 conviction and verdict was widely condemned, with Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director Ming Yu Hah saying it was just the latest attempt to silence Kem Sokha.

Last month, Cambodia’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction of another top opposition figure, Son Chhay, in a defamation case brought by election officials and the ruling party. He’s been ordered to pay more than U.S.$1 million to the Cambodian People’s Party and the National Election Commission. 

In January, Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha was arrested on charges of writing false checks – charges that opposition activists said were politically motivated. 

Also in January, Hun Sen demanded that a senior adviser to the Candlelight Party return his Phnom Penh home, worth about U.S.$10 million, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kong Korm had previously been a former deputy foreign minister. He has since resigned from his position in the party.

Radio Free Asia couldn’t reach Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment on Wednesday. 

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

Keeping the dragon at bay

In a deal seen as an effort to counter China’s growing military power in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia will buy up to five U.S. nuclear-powered submarines, and then build its own using a British design. The plan, which will deepen technological integration and strategic coordination, was unveiled by U.S. President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a meeting of the AUKUS security partners. Although the trio did not mention China, the foreign ministry in Beijing said the collaboration reflected “a typical Cold War mentality” and will “harm regional peace and stability.”

Chinese media pundit sparks ridicule over claim on Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar glory

Social media users have been taking aim at Chinese official commentator Hu Xijin, the former editor of the nationalistic Global Times newspaper, after he claimed Michelle Yeoh’s Oscars win as a victory for “Chinese cultural genes.”

“Congratulations to Ms Michelle Yeoh, so happy for her,” Xi posted to his account on the social media platform Sina Weibo after Yeoh became the first person of Asian descent to win a Best Actress award at the Oscars. “China is rising, and Asia is rising, and people of Chinese and Asian descent will definitely be more and more in the public eye.”

“More people of Chinese descent will take advantage of that momentum and achieve new pinnacles,” Hu wrote. “We should be cheering on anyone of Chinese descent who carries China’s cultural genes.”

Publicly available information suggests that Yeoh’s ancestors fled Fujian before the Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and crossed an ocean to settle in Malaysia.

Hu’s comments sparked a number of skeptical and satirical responses despite tight political censorship and warnings that more than 30 users had already been blocked for “malicious comments” by noon GMT on Wednesday.

“First off, congratulations to Michelle Yeoh, and secondly, she’s not Chinese, so stop claiming the credit for yourself,” Sichuan-based user @Harvey_flies_the_plane commented.

Others asked why the movie that swept the Oscars on Sunday, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” was banned in China.

“Hu, why can’t we see this movie in China, given that it has gotten such high praise?” @IndyQueen_hehehe wanted to know, while @Kung_Fu_master commented, “This is just envy – she’s not even Chinese” and @new_century_virgin_warrior added a “doubt” emoji, with the comment: “Isn’t she Malaysian? What does she have to do with China?”

What Hu meant to say was that the Oscars were the glory of America, since “nobody in China has ever won one,” @Run_to_the_Sun_2022 said. 

According to Beijing-based user @Sun_Jinpeng_1012, Yeoh’s Best Actress award was the result of her personal effort, while @Teacher_Tucker from Liaoning was considerably more blunt, commenting: “This has nothing to do with you.”

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Chinese State media affiliated commentator Hu Xijin’s Tweet congratulating Oscars winner Michelle Yeoh. (Photo/Twitter screen grab)

Claiming credit

Current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun said Chinese state media consistently try to take ownership of any achievement by people of Chinese descent, even if they have scant ties to the People’s Republic of China.

“They try to make out that overseas Chinese carry the genes of some kind of Chinese civilization, and express pride over their achievements,” Cai said. “They are always trying to take credit, which I think is absolutely ridiculous.”

Cai said the irony was that Yeoh and others like her were only able to achieve what they did because their ancestors had left China.

“There wouldn’t be so many outstanding people of Chinese descent if they hadn’t escaped that country,” he said. “Yet now they’re being claimed as Chinese [by Chinese media and commentators].”

Current affairs commentator Lu Nan said that the ruling Chinese Communist Party ultimately lacks confidence in its own achievements, and seeks to claim other people’s for their own.

“This is particularly clear in the case of Michelle Yeoh,” Lu said, drawing a parallel with state media’s lionizing of skier Eileen Gu during the 2021 Winter Olympics. “There is no way such a brilliant artistic achievement would be possible in China, where culture and ideas are all behind bars.”

“They can’t train actors like her themselves, because art requires freedom of thought,” he said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Matt Reed.

Hong Kong bans rapper who joked about hurting the feelings of the Chinese people

Hong Kong authorities have banned a Malaysian rapper who recorded a satirical song about Beijing’s ‘fragility,’ while two people have been arrested for possessing “seditious” children’s stories about sheep amid a crackdown on dissent in the city under a harsh national security law.

Namewee had earlier announced his 16-city “Big Bird” world tour would kick off in Taipei in April, and 15 of those bookings have now been confirmed – with the exception of Hong Kong.

“I wasn’t approved for Hong Kong,” he told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday. “I don’t know why — it may be due to [political] pressure, because I have had gigs there before, and this time I’m suddenly not allowed.”

“It’s a bit unfair, but mostly to the people of Hong Kong,” he said, pointing out that the ruling Chinese Communist Party had promised life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years following the former British colony’s 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

“It’s not been 50 years yet, so why are there some concerts that aren’t allowed?”

Namewee, the stage name for Huang Mingzhi, said the democratic island of Taiwan, which China has vowed to bring under its control, by force if necessary, was the easiest stop on his tour to book by far.

“Taipei was the freest of the stops on my tour to apply for, and not too much trouble,” Namewee said. “Some other places even requested my song lyrics in advance for review of all performed content in advance, but there was nothing like that in Taiwan.”

Namewee has been banned from China after he recorded a pop duet in October 2021 with Australia’s Kimberly Chen titled “Fragile,” which took aim at the country’s army of nationalistic “Little Pink” commentators and trolls.

In the official video for “Fragile,” which had garnered around 67 million views on YouTube by Wednesday, he and Chen sing repeated apologies to a dancing panda, who lives in a hobbit-style house and waves a flag bearing the online insult “NMSL,” frequently used by Little Pinks to wish death on the mothers of those they believe have insulted China or hurt the feelings of its people.

China frequently demands apologies from companies and celebrities if they use sensitive words not in line with Communist Party propaganda, including the idea that Taiwan is a sovereign country that has no interest in being invaded or ruled by its larger neighbor.

‘Seditious books’

The rapper’s Hong Kong ban came as national security police arrested two people on Monday for “possession of seditious books.”

Two men aged 38 and 50 were arrested on Monday and are being held for questioning, government broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

In this July 22, 2021 photo,a senior Hong Kong Police officer displays three children’s books that were ruled as seditious in Hong Kong. (Vincent Yu/AP)

“Books seized in the operation are suspected of inciting hatred or contempt of the central and [Hong Kong] governments and the judiciary,” the report quoted officers as saying.

The Times newspaper said the pair were found in possession of copies of books from children’s series Sheep Village, whose authors were jailed for 19 months apiece under a colonial-era law for conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications in September 2022 that had been mailed to Hong Kong from the U.K.

Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho – all in their 20s – were members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which has since disbanded alongside other civil society groups facing investigation by national security police.

Their children’s picture book series depicts sheep trying to defend their village from wolves, a storyline that was deemed to glorify the 2019 protests and “incite hatred” against the authorities.

Resurrected law

In the sweeping colonial-era legislation under which the charges were brought, sedition is defined as any words that generate “hatred, contempt or dissatisfaction” with the government, or “encourage disaffection.”

The law was passed under British rule in 1938, and is widely regarded as illiberal and anti-free speech. However, by the turn of the century, it had lain dormant on the statute books for decades, until being resurrected for use against opposition politicians, activists, and participants in the 2019 protest movement.

Eric Lai, visiting researcher at the Dickson Poon School of Law of King’s College London, said an increasing number of national security cases are now relying on tip-offs to a national security reporting hotline, which received hundreds of thousands of reports last year alone.

In this July 23, 2021, photo supporters of a pro-democracy union pose with illustrations of sheeps outside West Kowloon Court in Hong Kong in support of fellow members of the union who faced charges of sedition for publishing children’s books which allegedly try to explain the city’s democracy movement using illustrations of sheep. (Isaac Lawrence/ AFP)

“The government is willing to rely on the national security reporting hotline to enforce this law, as well as on the police,” Lai said. “Police said they had received more than 400,000 national security reports [last year].”

“Such an atmosphere will definitely make people in Hong Kong think twice about what publications they own,” he said.

Current affairs commentator Gary Tsang said the denial of Namewee’s application was definitely linked to the ongoing crackdown under the national security law imposed by Beijing in the wake of the 2019 protest movement.

“This sends a very clear signal that national security is now the top priority in all areas, since the national security law took effect,” Tsang told Radio Free Asia. “There are now very tight controls in place from the Hong Kong government on publications, and on art and literary circles.”

“If the government feels that your political stance and overall line are different from its own, you won’t be given a platform,” he said. 

‘Be cautious of you are a fragile pink’

Current affairs commentator Sang Pu said Namewee was given permission to perform in Macau, which has a similar national security law, but that Hong Kong was likely trying harder in the wake of the 2019 protest movement to show that it is toeing the Communist Party line.

“It’s like a kind of global social credit system for artists,” Sang said. “If you don’t get enough points to pass the test, then they get rid of you.”

“This makes it more likely that artists … will express their loyalty to Xi Jinping, if they know what’s good for them,” he said.

The video for “Fragile” starts with a message: “Warning: Be cautious if you are a fragile pink.” The camera focuses on baskets of cotton, in a reference to Uyghur forced labor in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and teddy bears resembling Winnie the Pooh, a satirical reference to President Xi Jinping that has now been banned from China’s tightly controlled internet.

“You never want to listen to people, but just launch constant counterattacks,” Namewee sings. “I’m not quite sure how I’ve offended you.”

“You always think the world is your enemy.”

“Sorry that I hurt your feelings,” he sings with a Taiwanese singer amid the sound of breaking glass. “I hear the sound of fragile self-esteem breaking into 1,000 pieces.”

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.