If this story sounds like it was ripped from the plot of "House of Cards," well, we'll concede that it has all of the necessary elements of a best-selling spy novel. In a story published in Monday's WSJ, the paper recounts the story of Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, who has been holed up in an 18th-floor apartment at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York City, where he has been living while his application for asylum moves through the US legal system.
Hardliners like Steve Bannon have taken up Guo's cause - he claims to be one of China's most-wanted dissidents - but a recent legal dispute raised questions about what, exactly, Guo is doing in the US.
Chinese businessman Guo Wengui
Here's the problem: Guo contracted a well-known security firm to dig into a list of names whom Guo alleged were Chinese agents out to kill him. But the firm, Washington, DC-based Strategic Vision, soon developed a sneaking suspicion that Guo might be a Chinese spy using the firm's services to root out US agents working counter-intelligence. SV sued Guo, and in the latest filings, submitted on Friday, the firm accused Guo of hiring investigators to put American personnel in safety.
Strategic Vision is owned by the widow of a once-powerful Senator, Malcolm Wallop, a now-deceased Republican from Wyoming.
Mr. Guo asked the company to investigate the financial history, social-media presence and travel details of a list of Chinese nationals he claimed were linked to top Chinese Communist Party officials, according to a court document filed by Strategic Vision. He wired the company $1 million to start the project, according to filings from both sides in the dispute.
Strategic Vision, based in Virginia, is owned by French Wallop, who was married to now-deceased Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop, a Republican. The company said in Friday’s court filing that Mr. Guo’s representation that he wanted to destabilize the Chinese Communist Party was “in alignment with Strategic Vision’s worldview.”
SV soon discovered that the first 15 names on Guo's list were "Records Protected" individuals, which suggests that they might have been intelligence assets working on behalf of the federal government.
Strategic Vision enlisted investigators who are former intelligence or law-enforcement personnel to perform the research, according to Friday’s filing. The filing said investigators determined the first 15 names provided by Mr. Guo had been designated by the U.S. as "Records Protected" individuals, for whom certain information wasn’t subject to disclosure. Such a designation is used in highly classified and access-restricted government databases, former intelligence officials said. The immigration status about such designees is often blocked in restricted government databases, and can suggest the person may be a foreigner who is assisting the U.S. government, experts said.
Strategic Vision said it concluded Mr. Guo was seeking information on Chinese nationals who may have been helping the U.S. government in national-security investigations or who were involved in other sensitive matters, according to the filing.
In the filing, SV determined that Guo "was not the dissident he claimed to be."
"Guo never intended to use the fruits of Strategic Vision’s research against the Chinese Communist Party," the court filing said. "That is because Guo was not the dissident he claimed to be. Instead, Guo Wengui was, and is, a dissident-hunter, propagandist, and agent in the service of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party."
Mr. Guo’s lawyer, Mr. Podhaskie, denied the allegations. "Mr. Guo is the most-wanted dissident worldwide by the Chinese Communist Party and has been their most outspoken and vitriolic critic since his arrival in the United States," he said in his statement.
Still, the Chinese government has purportedly frozen Guo's assets and threatened his family. Guo is subsisting on a massive pile of cash he managed to smuggle out of China with him.
Since then, Chinese authorities have frozen his assets and threatened his family, according to Mr. Guo. Still, he settled at the Sherry-Netherland in 2015, paying $67.5 million for the apartment overlooking Central Park. He has continued to travel frequently and got a membership at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla.
In 2017, after saying he had applied for U.S. asylum, Mr. Guo told the Journal he had set aside more than $150 million for legal fees to continue his fight against Beijing.
Mr. Podhaskie said in his statement that "certain of Mr. Guo’s assets in China valued at approximately USD$30 billion have been sold for pennies on the dollar" by Chinese Communist Party officials and that Mr. Guo “has never taken a penny out of China or Hong Kong since he began speaking out” against them.
But will the Trump Administration decide to use Guo as a bargaining chip in its trade talks with China? It's not outside the realm of possibility.