A fierce struggle has erupted within the sprawling finance and propaganda apparatus that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon co-founded with a fugitive Chinese billionaire.
The battle involves an organization Bannon inaugurated at the Statue of Liberty last year with Guo Wengui, a mainstay of Chinese disinformation, and hostilities erupted before the SEC even accused the related companies this month. to Guo from sales of unregistered stocks and cryptocurrency. But a federal transaction investigation had been underway for months, and a key claim in a retrial is that the money intended to fund the duo’s vision of a vast anti-Beijing network has instead been used to reimburse investors in anger in illicit transactions.
Guo has long been a key financier of Trumpworld businesses, including the conservative social media app Gettr. When federal authorities accused Bannon last August of defrauding a nonprofit, they stuck him on the deck of Guo’s massive $ 28 million yacht. Former President Donald Trump ultimately pardoned Bannon for any wrongdoing.
Neither Bannon nor Guo are parties to the lawsuit (just as neither was charged in the SEC order). Instead, the plaintiff is a mysterious entity called Mountains of Spices LLC, while the main defendant is Sara Lihong Wei Lafrenz, co-director of a nonprofit Bannon and Guo founded in 2018. The amended complaint filed with the Arizona federal court on September 16 reveals the inner workings of the network of declared anti-Communist exiles Bannon and Guo aspired to organize against the Chinese regime and in favor of a shadow government under their control.
And it suggests that the sprawling web is tearing itself apart.
Mountains of Spices, its name borrowed from the biblical song of Solomon, is one of three companies incorporated at a residential address in the upscale suburb of Great Neck, Long Island, New York. All of them belong to Qidong Xia, who a person familiar with the matter told the Daily Beast was a close associate of Guo. A lawyer for Qidong Xia did not respond to repeated questions about his client and the lawsuit.
The complaint and the posts on Guo’s GNews website describe Mountains of Spices as part of the “Himalayan Supervisory Organization,” the unregistered non-governmental organization that Bannon started with Guo in New York Harbor in 2020. The proclaimed purpose of this group, and its “firm” affiliates like Mountains of Spices, is to coordinate and fund anti-Beijing activities in the United States and around the world, and to support the “New Federal State of China” in the United States. couple.
Mountains of Spices and its sister company, MOS Himalaya, are listed as regular posters on GNews and on Guo’s video platform, GTV, where Bannon was previously a director. They also launched a website last October devoted to another of Guo and Bannon’s obsessions: conspiracy theories on first-in-law Hunter Biden.
Mountains of Spices lawsuit alleges the New York-based company wired funds to Lafrenz’s “farm” in Phoenix, which in turn was supposed to lend money to an anonymous third party “to make a return on it. investment to meet their needs and those of their anti -[Chinese Communist Party] efforts. ”Mountains of Spices reports providing $ 4.5 million of its own funds, as well as persuading six other people or companies to send Lafrenz a total of $ 5,466,846.
The lawsuit names only two of those six lenders: one is a Queens-based entity also owned by Qidong Xia, while the other is a China-based backpack and handbag maker with outlets in New York and New Jersey.
Although the lawsuit seeks only to recover the nearly $ 10 million that these companies claim to have loaned to Lafrenz, it postulates that its total transport of the Himalayan agricultural system and its supporters was “at least 44. million dollars, ”and suggests that she could have raised as much as $ 90 million.
But the lawsuit says that at that time Lafrenz had come under scrutiny from federal authorities and complaints from investors about the illegal stock program. According to the SEC, Lafrenz’s company, Voice of Guo Media, Inc. – also named in the lawsuit – illegally persuaded some 4,500 people in 2020 to give it a total of $ 114 million under the auspices of the purchase of actions of GTV.
In his lawsuit, Mountains of Spices accuses Lafrenz of trying to appease these disgruntled creditors by paying them back with funds from the Himalayan farming system. Additionally, he claims – without citing evidence – that she “went into hiding” earlier this year to avoid legal action from lenders. However, he claims that she admitted in electronic communications to embezzling money to settle her legal problems.
“She admitted that she was using funds from the loan program to pay off people she defrauded in a securities transaction she is under investigation for and presented images of bank statements showing funds paid to people rather than the borrower, ”the complaint says. .
Reached by phone, Lafrenz declined to comment on this story. A spokesperson for Bannon said he could not be reached for comment. Calls and emails to Guo’s lawyer went unanswered.
The financial and legal battle, representing a crack in the upper echelons of the Guo-Bannon propaganda machine, is just the latest headache the duo face.
Guo, a former Beijing-based real estate developer, has introduced himself as a whistleblower and political refugee even as Chinese authorities demanded his extradition for money laundering and sexual assault, which he denies. He also faces legal battles on American soil, both from abandoned business partners and figures in the Diaspora, whom the mogul has accused on his media platforms of being double agents of the totalitarian state. . (Critics have also made such allegations against Guo himself.)
Despite his forgiveness from Trump, Bannon has his own legal issues. The Washington post reported earlier this year that he was the subject of a joint criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney and the New York State Attorney General. And on Thursday, he was named in a new congressional subpoena in connection with the Jan.6 riot on the U.S. Capitol.