The Chinese Fugitive Living In A $67 Million Manhattan Apartment

Guo Wengui, a Chinese real estate magnate who now lives abroad, including at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, in London, March 29, 2016. Guo says a ferocious struggle led to the collapse of a business deal pitting him against relatives of a retired top Communist Party official, He Guoqiang. (Andrew Testa/The New York Times)

“My money is clean. I’m willing to accept everything being in full public view.”

After Guo Wengui escaped China, he discreetly paid $67 million in cash to buy a full floor apartment in Manhattan’s Sherry-Netherland Hotel, one of the highest prices ever paid for a New York co-op. He then got into a fight with his neighbors, battling the building’s co-op board, which court documents show include Howard Lorber, chairman of real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman, and private security firm magnate Ira Lipman.

Guo, who used a shell company to buy the apartment overlooking Central Park, filed a lawsuit last year against The Sherry-Netherland over a leaky drain pipe. Guo first claimed the building’s management entered his apartment after a May rainstorm without proper notice, tore up the terrace, and damaged an antique wall covering by punching a hole in the wall.

The dispute got nastier after Guo accused The Sherry-Netherland of discrimination, saying the $3 million of maintenance fees he was required to put in escrow, enough to cover five years instead of the customary three, was based on his Chinese citizenship. Guo and The Sherry-Netherland, which denied the accusations, settled the case in April.

Guo always seems to be in the middle of controversy and he has remained busy since arriving in the U.S. in 2015. He is living in The Sherry-Netherland Hotel, in exile and wanted by China, where he is the subject of great intrigue. Guo has claimed he has evidence of corruption at the highest levels of political and business power in China and has been making largely unsubstantiated accusations in recent weeks, often through social media. The Chinese government and leading Chinese media have implied it’s Guo who is tainted by corruption.

Guo did not respond to several interview requests from Forbes, but he has conducted media interviews with Chinese-language outlets recently and his conversation last month with a U.S. government-backed service was mysteriously interrupted mid-broadcast. It remains unclear what happened during the Voice of America Mandarin Service interview, but five employees have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Guo has accused senior officials in Beijing of corruption and linked one of them to HNA Group, the mysterious and powerful Chinese company conducting an international deal spree that is now the biggest shareholder of Deutsche Bank and Hilton Worldwide Holdings.

Interpol, the global crime fighting organization, issued an arrest notice against Guo in April at China’s request, reportedly based on vague charges of bribery, asking countries to provisionally arrest Guo. The U.S. Justice Department has been willing to work with China on fugitive deportation in the past if provided with direct criminal evidence. But the U.S. is under no obligation to follow the arrest notice and doesn’t have an extradition treaty with China. Guo has denied any wrongdoing and claims China is trying to stop him from exposing corruption. Guo recently used social media to introduce his lawyer and assistant, saying they were his emergency contacts “if something happens to me.”

Asked about Guo, Peter Carr, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman, said: “While we do not comment on particular cases, the United States is not a safe haven for fugitives from any nation. We are an international leader in anticorruption and will continue to work with partners across the globe to advance the fight against corruption.”

A real estate magnate, Guo was behind Pangu Plaza, a dragon-shaped building near Beijing’s Olympic stadium. Like most entrepreneurs in China, Guo had to work with the government and government officials. Chinese businessmen who flee China after those relationships sour usually try to quietly resolve their situation with Beijing. But Guo has gone in a different direction and his corruption claims could complicate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plans for the key Communist Party Congress this fall.

Since arriving in the U.S., Guo has become a member of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and been very active on social media, often tweeting pictures of himself working out in his Manhattan apartment or posing on its 2,000 square-foot terrace with views of Central Park and the Plaza Hotel. His Twitter and Facebook feeds were briefly suspended earlier this year. Guo has amassed 190,000 Twitter followers and he recently told them he would soon build a 548-foot superyacht for $1.1 billion. “My money is clean. I’m willing to accept everything being in full public view,” Guo recently tweeted.

“There are many billionaires in China and they are capable of creating trouble for the Chinese government,” says Victor Shih, a political economy professor and China expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This episode may signal the rising political prominence of the entrepreneurial class in China.”

With Guo in New York, Manhattan’s state court has become a venue for disputes involving him. Hu Shuli, a respected Chinese journalist, and the media company she founded, Caixin Media, sued Guo in New York for libel in April. It is rare for journalists to make libel claims, but Hu claimed false and offensive statements Guo made on Twitter and Facebook caused her humiliation and severe mental anguish.

Among other things, Hu claims Guo accused her of extortion, published her personal credit card statement, and said Caixin had conspired with Chinese state security. Hu says Guo has attacked her ever since Caixin published an investigative report in 2015 on Guo’s effort to use a sex tape to oust a Beijing deputy mayor so Guo could acquire real estate for his development near Beijing’s Olympic Stadium. Guo tweeted in April that Hu framed him because he had found compromising information about her.

By Nathan Vardi


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