Say you’re a billionaire and you’re picking up your first superyacht. Nothing fancy – just a little number like Lady May, 152 feet long, sleeps ten and has a crew of eight. You bought her because of her white marble surfaces, Macassar ebony cabinets and quantum zero-speed stabilisers so your trays of cocaine don’t spill on the high seas. What delicious thoughts must run through your head after buying it. You’ll be sparkling off the coast of Cannes… serenading the Plage Gazagnaire with the sound of Icelandic techno from your enormous speakers… inviting over a runway’s worth of Victoria’s Secret models to open a methuselah of Dom Perignon Rose Gold 1996. And with a white captain’s cap rakishly perched on your head? Naturally, old chap.
Who knows what Guo Wengui, the Chinese billionaire, first thought when he bought Lady May. But whatever dreams he must have had about sailing it round the world will have come crashing down to earth when his good friend Steve Bannon was arrested on board last month. Donald Trump’s campaign manager and chief White House strategist was sipping his morning coffee and reading a book when federal agents raided the yacht.
Bannon is alleged to have run a scam under the guise of We Build The Wall, a fundraising effort designed to support the wall’s construction on the Mexican border. It raised $25 million from hundreds of thousands of Americans, some of which Bannon is said to have pocketed along with three co-conspirators – a former Breitbart writer, a pro-Trump energy drink seller and an Air Force veteran who became a professional Facebook spammer. Bannon, who pleaded not guilty, was released from custody on a $5 million bond and will face trial in May 2021. His story now seems cut and dry.
More mysterious is the origin story of Guo Wengui himself, Bannon’s close friend, who goes by Miles Guo and sometimes Miles Kwok. Guo had ties to high ranking Chinese officials and made an estimated fortune of $30 billion as a property magnate in China, making him one of the country’s richest 100 people. But then he claimed he had to flee in 2014 to stay one step ahead of looming corruption charges. Arrest warrants in China have accused him of bribery, fraud, money laundering and rape. He denies wrongdoing.
Guo came to New York and bought a giant pad on the 18th floor of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, a seven-bed apartment overlooking Central Park, for $67.5 million although, disputing public property documents, he says it was $82 million. He also became a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, which now costs in the region of $200,000 to join. This membership might be the reason he’s still in America today. In 2017, Trump was on the verge of deporting him after his friend Steve Wynn, the gambling magnate, pressured him to do so (Wynn runs casinos in Macau that need annual approval from Chinese authorities). “We need to get this criminal out of the country,” Trump reportedly told his top aides. He relented when he was informed that Guo is a member of Mar-a-Lago, according to Vanity Fair.
Guo now spends his time making hours-long YouTube videos in which he praises Trump and tosses hand grenades at the Chinese government. He has accused, for instance, Wang Qishan, China’s Vice President, of keeping mistresses and shady business interests. This relentless criticism of the Chinese Communist Party makes him a natural ally of Bannon, who this year said he was producing a documentary that he promised would be a “devastating takedown” of Xi Jinping. After detonating his White House career in late 2017, Bannon was hired on a million-dollar contract to introduce executives of Guo Media to “media personalities”.
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