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Epoch Times financial exec charged in $67M money laundering scheme

The financial head of the global media company that publishes the conservative newspaper and website the Epoch Times is facing money laundering charges in an apparent $67-million US fraud scheme.

Controversial publication has been criticized for promoting far-right conspiracy theories, misinformation

A close up on a copy of The Epoch Times newspaper with the headline "How the Chinese Communist Party Endangered the World."

The financial head of the publisher of the Epoch Times is facing money laundering charges in an apparent $67-million US scheme to benefit himself and the company.

The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York alleges Weidong Guan, also known as Bill Guan, conspired with others in a "sprawling, transnational scheme" to "benefit himself, the media company and its affiliates."

Financial records on the ProPublica website show that Guan is the chief financial officer of the New York-headquartered Epoch Times Media Group, which publishes the conservative newspaper and website of the same name.

The 61-year-old from New Jersey is charged with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and two counts of bank fraud, which each carry a maximum sentence of 30 years.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Epoch Times said Guan is "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" and that the company would co-operate with any investigation into the allegations against him, but that he has been suspended "until this matter is resolved."

In a statement on Monday, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams accused Guan of "laundering tens of millions of dollars in fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance benefits and other crime proceeds."

A person holds a newspaper while standing in front of a Canada Post mail delivery box.

Williams alleges that members of the Epoch Times' "Make Money Online" team, which Guan managed, used stolen personal identification information to launder illegally obtained funds through bank accounts set up in the media company's name, as well through using prepaid debit card and cryptocurrency accounts.

"After the crime proceeds reached those bank accounts, they were often further laundered through other bank accounts held by the media entities, Guan's personal bank accounts, and through Guan's personal cryptocurrency accounts," the district attorney's statement says.

It also says the media company's increased annual revenue jumped from approximately $15 million US to about $62 million US year over year, during a period "in or around the same time the money laundering scheme began."

Guan allegedly oversaw the scheme from at least some time in 2020 through May of this year while working for the company, which is not named in the statement.

The news release clearly states that the charges against Guan "do not relate to the media company's news-gathering activities."

Controversies and conspiracy theories

The Epoch Times was founded by Chinese immigrants as a non-profit media organization in 2000 and is closely associated with followers of Falun Gong, a religious practice declared a cult by the Chinese government in 1999.

Falun Gong's global headquarters are located in a 1.73-square-kilometre compound in upstate New York.

Once a free newspaper available in curbside boxes or handed out in major cities, promoting an anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) message, the Epoch Times has morphed into an online purveyor of right-wing political views aligned with former U.S. president Donald Trump. Critics have accused it of promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories.

According to its website, the Epoch Times has editions in 23 languages in 36 regions and countries — including Canada, with operations based in Toronto.

Its current and past columnists include Canadians like former newspaper publisher Conrad Black, former CRTC vice-chair Peter Menzies and National Post opinion writers Barbara Kay and the late Rex Murphy.

There was controversy surrounding the Epoch Times in Canada in 2020, when unsolicited copies of the newspaper were delivered to homes across the country.

The union representing Canada Post workers said the special-edition issue focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, and was headlined"How the Chinese Communist Party Endangered the World," referring to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as the "CCP virus."

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers made a request for Canada Post to cease delivering the paper, citing fears of fuelling xenophobia and reprisals against Asian Canadians and postal workers, but the federal government denied it.

The Epoch Times has also run afoul of social media platforms — Facebook, in particular — over its advertisements promoting Trump and conspiracy theories under various different pages posing as news outlets.

According to NBC News, the Epoch Times spent $2 million US on pro-Trump advertising on Facebook over a one-year period spanning 2018 and 2019 — more than any other organization aside from the Trump campaign itself.

The New York Times reported that the Epoch Times then shifted to YouTube, which demonetized its channel in 2021.

The company has accused "Big Tech and the legacy media" of unfairly targeting the publication and costing it revenue as a result.

"We have been demonetized on YouTube, blocked from advertising on Facebook, and shadow-banned on several social media platforms, in some cases, due to pressure from advocacy journalists," its website reads.

It also claims it lost contracts with companies in the United States and Canada after they received "phone calls or written communication from Chinese embassies or other front groups of the Chinese Communist Party."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Logan

Senior Writer

Nick Logan is a senior writer with CBCNews.ca based in Vancouver. He has worked as a multi-platform reporter and producer for more than a decade, with a particular focus on international news. You can reach out to him at nick.logan@cbc.ca.

    With files from CBC News

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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