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Why China Is Going After A Billionaire In The U.S.


Now to the case of a Chinese billionaire living in exile in New York. His name is Guo Wengui. He's a real estate tycoon who's been making a name for himself for calling out corruption within China's Communist Party, which the Chinese Communist Party is not too happy about.

For years, prosecutors in China have been building a fraud and corruption case against him. They want him extradited back to China. Now they are accusing him of rape. NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz is on the line. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Good morning. OK, so who is Guo Wengui and why does China want him back so badly?

SCHMITZ: Well, Guo is a 50-year-old Chinese property tycoon. He's lived in exile for more than two years after journalist revealed he was involved in a series of corrupt deals with members of China's ruling elite. Several of them, by the way, are now all in jail. And Guo would be too if he had stayed in China. Instead, he's safely ensconced in a $68 million penthouse overlooking Central Park in New York.

He's China's most wanted man because, for months, he's waged a social media war on China's ruling elite. In the many videos he has posted, he makes these scandalous claims against China's leadership, though, he's been very careful to avoid President Xi Jinping in these accusations. Many of his claims are false. But some have been confirmed, which is why China's Communist Party is very nervous about him.

KELLY: OK. And we mentioned that there is now an allegation of rape against him. What's the story there?

SCHMITZ: Right. At this moment, Guo hasn't been charged with rape. And he went on Twitter to deny the allegation, saying China is only going after him because he has so much dirt on China's leaders.

KELLY: Now, we mentioned that Guo is ensconced at the moment in a $68 million dollar penthouse in New York. So it's pretty clear why he wouldn't want to go back to China. We mentioned why China wants him back so badly. Is the U.S. going to let that happen?

SCHMITZ: Well, it's always possible the Trump administration could use him as a bargaining chip for something it wants from China, like maybe more pressure on North Korea. But, you know, it's probably unlikely the U.S. would allow someone so well-connected to China's leadership to just up and leave.

We know from leaked recordings that Guo has met with the former U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary several months ago. And he was told that President Trump would not give him up to China. During that meeting, by the way...

KELLY: This is Jeh Johnson who served back in the Obama administration, right? Jeh Johnson?

SCHMITZ: Yes. Yes, exactly. And during that meeting - it was interesting - Guo made a point to remind the U.S. side that he is a long-standing member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. So he's got that going for him.

KELLY: Wow. So connections both inside the Obama and the Trump administrations. And is there any timeline on how all this may play out?

SCHMITZ: Difficult to say. I mean, he's promised many more revelations. And, you know, China's got a very important leadership transition coming up in October. So it should get even spicier.

KELLY: OK. That's NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz updating us there on the strange saga of Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. Rob, thanks so much.

SCHMITZ: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.