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Epoch Times CFO charged with $67 million money laundering scheme

image source, Getty Images

  • Author, Holly Hondarich
  • Role, BBC News, Washington

The chief financial officer of the Epoch Times news publication has been arrested for his alleged involvement in a massive money laundering scheme.

Federal prosecutors allege Bill Guan, 61, participated in a global conspiracy to launder at least $67 million (£52 million) in illegal cash for his own benefit and that of the Epoch Times.

According to the indictment, Mr. Guan led the outlet’s “Make Money Online” team, which used cryptocurrencies to acquire tens of millions in the proceeds of crime.

Mr. Guan has yet to enter a plea. If convicted, he could spend more than 30 years in prison.

In a statement on Monday evening, the Epoch Times told the BBC that it “intends and will cooperate fully with any investigation dealing with the allegations against Mr Guan”.

“Although Mr. Guan is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the company has suspended him until this matter is resolved,” the news outlet said.

He did not respond to specific questions about the Make Money Online team referred to by prosecutors.

Mr Guan could not be contacted by the BBC.

In the 12-page indictment, federal prosecutors detailed the alleged scheme, which they say began around 2020.

The plot, prosecutors said, was simple: Members of the Make Money Online (MMO) team would buy the proceeds of crime through discounted cryptocurrencies and transfer those proceeds to bank accounts held by entities affiliated with the newspaper.

The illegal proceeds would eventually be moved back into Epoch Times accounts through “tens of thousands of layered transactions,” including through prepaid debit cards and financial accounts opened using stolen identifying information.

According to the indictment, for years the scheme operated to enrich the Epoch Times, pumping tens of millions of dollars into the paper.

Coinciding with Mr Guan coming up with the alleged scheme, the outlet’s internal accounting showed annual revenue ballooning by around 410% – from $15m in 2019 to around $62m this year following.

When the banks asked Mr. Guan where the sum of money came from, he lied, claiming the funds came from “donations,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Guan was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of bank fraud.

Prosecutors noted that these charges “do not relate to the newsgathering activities of the Media Company (The Epoch Times).”

Founded in 2000, Epoch Times began as a small, low-budget, free newspaper in New York.

It was started by Chinese-Americans affiliated with a religious group called Falun Gong.

In the intervening years, it has become one of the most powerful conservative news organizations in the US and a home for conspiracy theories, right-wing disinformation and strong opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.