One of the murkier chapters of US-based political organisations with links to the anti-government movement behind 2019 riots may soon draw to a close. The arrest in the United States of Guo Wengui, who is also one of China’s most wanted fugitives, will hopefully close a sorry episode of a massive political and financial scheme. The self-described billionaire tycoon has been indicted in New York on 11 counts relating to an alleged US$1 billion fraud. He fled to the US in 2014 after being charged with bribery and money laundering as President Xi Jinping launched his multi-year anti-corruption campaign. He first attracted attention in self-imposed exile by promising to spill the beans on official corruption and sex scandals on the mainland. But he came to prominence in Hong Kong when he held a live broadcast with Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, the disqualified lawmaker and one of the leaders of the protest movement, during a mass rally in June 2019. In the broadcast which immediately went viral, Guo lectured Leung on tactics to use against the Hong Kong and mainland governments while promising to continue financial and diplomatic support for Leung and his fellow protesters. He cited his close associate and business partner Steve Bannon, who was at one time a top adviser to former president Donald Trump at the White House. Indeed, Bannon, who once called Guo “the Donald Trump of Beijing”, was arrested aboard his friend’s yacht on fraud charges in August 2020. Trump pardoned Bannon on the federal charges before leaving office but some of those charges were reinstated last September in New York State, which the presidential pardon did not cover. Bannon’s fraud charges were unrelated to Guo’s. Leung subsequently fled to the US with pending national security charges against him in Hong Kong. Guo has close ties with the Republican Party. According to a report published in New Yorker magazine in October, “his businesses paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump advisers, including Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani and the attorney L Lin Wood, who joined efforts to overturn the 2020 [presidential] election”. Chinese exile Guo charged with defrauding investors out of over US$1 billion However, Guo’s current legal troubles, according to the latest charge sheet from the US Department of Justice, stem from his Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society, as well as the GTV Media Group, a media company. The three organisations professed to promote and support democracy and the rule of law in China, including Hong Kong. According to US prosecutors, “In or about 2018, Kwok [Guo] founded two purported non-profit organisations, namely, the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society. Kwok used the non-profit organisations to amass followers who were aligned with his purported policy objectives in China and who were also inclined to believe Kwok’s statements regarding investment and moneymaking opportunities.” Guo has been charged with laundering hundreds of millions of stolen funds to conceal the scheme’s illegal activities and continue the fraud’s operations. At a press briefing, US Attorney Damian Williams said: “[Guo] is charged with lining his pockets with the money he stole, including buying himself, and his close relatives, a 50,000 sq ft mansion, a US$3.5m Ferrari, and even two US$36,000 mattresses, and financing a US$37m luxury yacht.” Guo was also behind GTV, which was launched explicitly to promote his anti-China views among those who shared his political agenda. It was also named in the latest fraud indictment. But how is it related to Hong Kong? Nothing with Guo and his enterprises is ever simple. Now, let’s step back to Hong Kong in 2019. Besides Guo’s association with the Hong Kong protest movement, a former board member of GTV Media was China critic and financial short-seller Kyle Bass. This is where things got really complicated. Shortly before the unprecedented protests and riots started in June 2019, Bass warned his investors that “Hong Kong currently sits atop one of the largest financial time bombs in history”. Since then, he had repeatedly bet and lost against the Hong Kong dollar. According to an October 2021 report in Bloomberg, “[Bass] has lost big, ensnaring some investors who funded his short through what the regulator said was an illicit stock offering [from GTV].” However, Bass and his Hayman Capital Management were not accused of any wrongdoing. “The details were laid out in a September SEC enforcement action that describes illegal financing of an ambitious start-up that sought to expose corruption involving Chinese government officials,” the same Bloomberg report said. “The start-up – GTV Media Group, with ties to self-professed billionaire Guo Wengui and ex-Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon – raised US$339 million through an unregistered share sale last year, according to the SEC. “In June 2020, GTV’s parent company, Saraca Media Group, transferred US$100 million of the proceeds to an unnamed hedge fund that takes positions in the Hong Kong dollar and other Asian currencies, the regulator said. The fund went on to lose more than 95 per cent of the US$30 million it invested, according to the SEC. That hedge fund is managed by Bass’ Hayman Capital Management … “At the time of the GTV share sale, Hayman was starting a new strategy to make all-or-nothing wagers that the [Hong Kong] currency’s peg to the US dollar would collapse.” The local currency, it turned out, was strong enough to resist pressure from both the 2019 political turmoil and the Covid-19 pandemic thereafter. Many people dismiss out of hand claims about foreign interference in Hong Kong politics and economy. But Guo, Bannon and their associates have shown only the tip of the iceberg. They should serve as a cautionary tale for Hong Kong people.