A billionaire property developer who has accused some of China’s most powerful officials of corruption has applied for political asylum in the United States, his lawyer said.
The billionaire, Guo Wengui, who is in the United States on a tourist visa that expires later this year, is seeking asylum status because his public charges against Chinese officials have made him “a political opponent of the Chinese regime,” Thomas Ragland, a Washington-based lawyer representing him, said in a telephone interview late Wednesday.
Asylum – “ even a pending asylum application ” would give Mr. Guo more protection because he could stay in the United States while the application was being considered, a process that can take years, Mr. Ragland said.
“Asylum offers a level of protection that is different from having a visa status,” Mr. Ragland said. “Visas can be cancelled or revoked.”
From his $68 million apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan, Mr. Guo, also known as Miles Kwok, has used Twitter and YouTube to publicize his claims that Wang Qishan, a member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee who oversees the ruling Communist Party’s own anticorruption efforts, and his family members secretly control one of China’s largest conglomerates.
Some of the evidence he presents to back his claims is easily refuted or simply difficult to believe. But some of his accusations, such as those made against the family of Mr. Wang’s immediate predecessor, can be corroborated.
Mr. Guo’s actions have earned the ire of the Chinese government. In April Beijing asked Interpol, the global police organization, to issue a global warrant for his arrest. He is also being sued for libel in United States courts by several Chinese individuals and companies.
The asylum application could present a diplomatic quandary for the Trump administration, which is seeking China’s help in isolating North Korea after it conducted a series of missile tests and underground nuclear tests. Mr. Guo is arguably China’s most-wanted man, and giving him asylum would almost certainly antagonize Beijing, which may interpret the move as tacit approval of Mr. Guo’s tactics to undermine China’s leadership.
Articles in China’s closely controlled news media have accused Mr. Guo of crimes including fraud, money laundering and rape. In April one of his associates, a former vice minister of state security, appeared in a televised confession in which he said Mr. Guo had bribed him.
Mr. Guo’s asylum application may be complicated by his claims that he has passports from many countries, including the United Arab Emirates, and is no longer a citizen of China. It is unclear why Mr. Guo could not go to another country where he has citizenship when his United States visa expires, though Mr. Ragland said that the United States might be the only country where Mr. Guo feels safe from the long arm of the Chinese state.
Mr. Guo’s asylum application, which Mr. Ragland said was received Wednesday by a government processing center in Vermont, comes ahead of an important Communist Party meeting next month that will determine whether Mr. Wang, who is past the customary retirement age, will be able to remain on the Politburo Standing Committee.
Mr. Guo’s accusations were seen by some analysts as weakening Mr. Wang’s position. But on Wednesday, Beijing sent a signal that Mr. Wang still enjoyed strong backing from his peers. Three of his fellow members of the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, plus the top aide to President Xi Jinping, attended a ceremony in Beijing with Mr. Wang to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of his father-in-law, a senior leader who died in 1994.
“I don’t think that Guo Wengui is being treated seriously as a threat at the top of the party. He hasn’t been as influential as he thought he could be,’ said Chen Ping, a Hong Kong-based businessman who has close ties to members of some of China’s most influential political families. “I think Wang Qishan has a real chance of staying on.”