Leaked audio indicates fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui asked former Obama homeland security chief to help him extend stay in US
Kevin Tung says a longer US stay by the fugitive Chinese billionaire would make it easier to recover assets that Tung’s clients are trying to claim
A New York-based lawyer representing dozens of parties suing Guo Wengui, a tycoon wanted by China’s government, welcomed news that Guo might be seeking to extend his stay in the US because such a move would make it easier to recover assets his clients are trying to claim.
The comment by Kevin Tung of the law firm Kevin Kerveng Tung PC follows the publication of a recording between Guo and former US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson wherein Johnson, now a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, offered to represent Guo in his bid to apply for the right to remain in the US.
“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 heard saying on the recording before instructing Guo to set up a meeting with him at the midtown Manhattan office of Paul Weiss before meeting with any representatives of the Chinese government or the US Federal Bureau of Investigations. Johnson also asks Guo to not discuss the meeting caught on the recording, which is heavily edited.
“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.”
He was also heard asking if Guo has made donations to charities in the US, and told Guo that his influence in the US might increase if he had donated to human rights organisations.
“If he’s not successful to stay in the United States then we may have a problem,” Tung said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. “If he chooses to stay in the country, it’s actually better for us. We’ll fight. We’ll continue the lawsuit.”
Tung says he plans to ask the New York courts for an injunction against Guo that would prohibit him from transferring any of his assets out of the US.
Asked to confirm that the voices on the recording are that of Johnson and Guo, Paul Weiss emailed the following statement to the Post: “A meeting between Mr. Kwok and Secretary Johnson several months ago about a possible representation appears to have been recorded and released on YouTube.
Secretary Johnson and the firm did not take on the representation. We have no information about the circumstances in which the recording was made.”
Guo is known by several different names, including Miles Kwok. Two other individuals captured in the recording – a woman speaking English with a North American accent and another woman speaking English with a Chinese accent – aren’t identified. The woman with the Chinese accent explains to Johnson that Guo’s visas were set to expire in July, according to the recording.
The latest development in Guo’s story adds more questions to those already surrounding the extent of his wealth, which has turned into something of a shell game. Guo’s effort to remain in the US contradicts assertions he made in an interview with Voice of America (VOA) in April, a segment that sparked concern about self-censorship or interference by the Chinese government because it was cut short.
In the April 19 VOA interview, Guo claimed to hold passports from the US, EU and nine other foreign jurisdictions.
Tung is representing mainland Chinese clients in several lawsuits already filed with the New York state court or under preparation.
The first lawsuit Tung filed in New York against Guo amounted to about US$50 million, brought on behalf of nine contractors who worked on properties in China owned by companies Guo controls. The second suit, which Tung says will be filed “soon”, involves a mix of companies and individuals seeking US$1.5 billion.
Another lawsuit Tung said he plans to file in New York is on behalf of a Chinese government official accusing Guo of defamation.
A property developer, Guo has close ties to former state security vice-minister Ma Jian, who is under investigation for corruption, and is suspected of giving Ma 60 million yuan (HK$70.4 million) in bribes.
Guo has been living in self-imposed exile in his luxury New York penthouse overlooking Central Park.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang confirmed in April that Interpol had issued a “red notice” seeking Guo’s arrest.
Tung said he’s tried to serve Guo with papers that would initiate two of the lawsuits he’s filed with the local courts, but hasn’t been able to deliver them to Guo at the New York penthouse, which is on the market for US$78 million.
That property is one of many US assets that Tung’s clients are trying to claim, which pits them against Cayman Islands-based Pacific Alliance Asia Opportunity Fund LP, a unit of Hong Kong’s Pacific Alliance Investment Management Limited.
The Pacific Alliance hedge fund, which sued Guo in April in New York for US$88 million of defaulted debts, filed a request for a prejudgment order of attachment on the apartment to ensure that proceeds from any sale of the property don’t leave the US. The hedge fund’s legal team includes Edward Moss and Stuart Sarnoff of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
Shortly after news of Pacific Alliance’s lawsuit broke, Guo boasted on his Twitter feed about another luxury apartment he claimed to own in one of New York City’s tallest buildings, located at 432 Park Avenue.
Guo “flaunts his wealth on social media, taunts the plaintiffs and dares them to come at him,” Tung said in a press conference earlier this month, convened to update reporters on the emergence of more mainland Chinese parties planning to stake claims to Guo’s wealth. “Look how much the claims are increasing. He just keeps inviting the claims against him.”
Other items highlighted by Tung included a luxury Manhattan apartment currently on the market for US$78 million, a yacht docked in Manhattan worth an estimated 20 million euros (US$23.6 million), and an Airbus 319 aircraft worth US$94 million.