Mother Jones is reporting that the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a massive $539 million fine on Monday against three companies linked to exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, including one founded by former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
According to the SEC, the three companies—GTV Media Group, Saraca Media Group Inc., and Voice of Guo Media Inc.—raised $487 million from over 5,000 investors last year without registering with the agency or providing required financial disclosures under securities laws. Saraca is the parent company of GTV, which owns and operates a social media platform as well as other media ventures.
Guo’s Voice was involved in raising funds for GTV. Bannon has been an integral part of Guo’s overall media strategy, serving as a paid consultant and as a director of GTV, which he helped launch. According to a source close to the company, Bannon is no longer employed by Guo’s companies.
The New York Attorney General’s Office announced Monday that it had concluded its own investigation into GTV and Saraca, the two New York–based companies involved in the stock offering.
GTV and Saraca stated that they were “pleased to have reached this solution, which achieves our goal of returning funds to our supporters, an objective we have had since these regulatory matters commenced.” Guo claimed on social media that his companies had been victims of the Communist Party’s “dark forces,” but he declared, “Our cooperation with the SEC has been a success!”
The agreement follows a more-than-year-long investigation into allegations made by would-be investors in Guo’s media empire, almost all of whom are Chinese speakers, that they were duped by false claims he made in videos soliciting investments in the venture.
More than 4,500 investors who were unable to meet Guo’s alleged minimum investment requirement pooled funds through Voice of Guo, an Arizona-based company. The SEC, however, stated that “none of these investors were ultimately issued GTV shares.”
Bannon, who did not respond to a request for comment, previously denied any involvement in the stock offering, and he is not mentioned in the SEC order issued on Monday. He did, however, assist Guo in establishing a large online following among Chinese speakers all over the world, as well as nonprofit and for-profit entities that Guo has used to promote himself and raise funds.
Bannon, who served as Trump’s campaign manager in the final months of the 2020 presidential campaign, started working for Guo shortly after he was forced out of the White House in August 2017. Guo fled China in 2014, where he was facing money laundering and other charges. Guo claims he is being targeted as a dissident and denies any wrongdoing in those cases. He has sought asylum in the United States. In 2017, he began alleging corruption by Chinese officials with whom he claims to have worked closely.
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In 2018, Bannon assisted Guo in establishing two nonprofits, the Rule of Law Foundation and the Rule of Law Society. These organizations, according to the men, are aimed at undermining the Chinese Communist Party. However, those groups, as well as an active online network linked to Guo, have spread a slew of misinformation that has little to do with China. This includes false claims that Trump won the 2020 election but was cheated by electoral fraud, claims that left-wing antifa activists carried out the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, and various conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Guo, for example, recently claimed that China controls Pfizer and has sabotaged the company’s COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Axios, Guo paid Bannon $1 million for consulting work for Guo’s media companies under a one-year contract signed in 2019. Guo had previously loaned Bannon $150,000 and allowed him to use a private plane owned by Guo. Bannon has also lived on Guo’s 150-foot, $28 million yacht in recent years, at times sharing it with Guo. Bannon was arrested on the ship last year and charged with defrauding a charity that raised funds to pay for private construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Bannon was later pardoned by Trump.
The SEC announcement came on the same day that the New York Times reported that interview transcripts appeared to show that Bannon had acted as a media trainer for Jeffrey Epstein in sessions Epstein used as practice for a 60 Minutes interview, according to a new book by Michael Wolff. According to Bannon, he was not providing media training and that the interview was part of a documentary about Epstein being “encouraged and rewarded by a global establishment that dined off his money and his influence.”
Guo has been sued for allegedly encouraging supporters to threaten and harass Chinese dissidents in the United States and elsewhere through his online network. In addition, a former assistant has filed a rape suit against him in New York. Guo has denied all of these charges. The lawsuits are still pending.
According to the SEC’s announcement, the commission’s investigation is ongoing.