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Guo Wengui

Fugitive Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui seeks asylum in the US

It could take longer than the average time of two to three years for the US government to grant the controversial billionaire asylum status

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 8:44am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 8:07am

Fugitive Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui has applied for political asylum in the US, his lawyer confirmed, adding that it could take longer than the average time of two to three years for the US government to grant the controversial billionaire asylum status.

Thomas Ragland, a Washington-based lawyer representing Guo, told the South China Morning Post in an interview on Thursday that Guo, who has lived in New York for more than two years, “formally requested [an asylum application] as of yesterday”.

“The average time to process the application from filing to interview is two to three years,” said Ragland, of the law firm Clark Hill PLC. “This case is complicated and it could take even longer than that.”

The decision will involve the immigration services unit of the US Homeland Security Department, the US State Department and other government agencies, Ragland added. The State and Homeland Security Departments as of Friday had not replied to the Post's press inquires.

News that Guo was seeking asylum was first reported by The New York Times.

An asylum application from Guo, whose tourist visa expires later this year, was received on Wednesday by a government processing centre in Vermont, the T imes reported.

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“Asylum offers a level of protection that is different from having a visa status,” Ragland was quoted. “Visas can be cancelled or revoked.”

Guo’s intention to seek US asylum came to light in late August, when a leaked audio clip published on YouTube indicated Guo had asked former US President Obama’s homeland security chief to help him extend his US stay.

In the recording, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Guo: “I want to help you. You’re someone I want to help. You and your family. You and your lovely wife and your two children.”

Johnson is now a partner at the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“I am the only member of Barack Obama’s cabinet that has met with Donald Trump,” Johnson was heard saying in the recording. “I wrote him a personal letter yesterday.”

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It’s unclear now whether Johnson’s offer was directly linked to Guo’s asylum application.

When asked by the Post if any former or current US government officials had offered Guo asylum in the past, Ragland responded: “not that I’m aware of”.

Ragland added that Johnson is no longer in the government. “[Johnson] expressed his interest in helping, but not any sort of offer,” Ragland said. “He is not in the position to make an offer anyway.”

No extradition treaty exists between the US and China. The two sides need to engage in bilateral talks to repatriate any overseas fugitives back to their home country.

China intensified its international manhunt of fugitive corrupt officials in March 2015 with an operation dubbed Sky Net, aimed at restricting their financial channels.

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In April, the global police organisation Interpol issued a “red notice” for Guo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news briefing in Beijing. A red notice is an international alert for a wanted person.

The property magnate also faces massive lawsuits in the US. As of August, the total amount of lawsuit claims in the US against Guo by mainland Chinese plaintiffs, who are unable to recover their assets in China, was up to US$5.3 billion.

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, owner of Hainan Airlines, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Guo in New York state, seeking at least US$300 million. The lawsuit filing calls Guo’s statements linking the company to corruption involving Chinese leaders “baseless” and “meritless”.

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Ragland said the processing of the civil lawsuits is “unrelated” to the asylum application and “handled by lawyers other than me”.

“Whether he was granted asylum or not, it does not really affect those lawsuits,” Ragland said. “Decisions on those cases will be made by different courts in the civil context.”