In January, the exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui sat in his 9000-square-foot apartment overlooking Central Park and told Lauren Hilgers, a journalist from the New York Times, that he intended to save the world through exposing corruption in his native country. Hilgers’ suspicion that Guo wasn’t quite the valiant, selfless crusader for democracy he portrayed himself as comes through clearly in the article she wrote describing their meeting. Her sense that something was rotten in Denmark now seems particularly prescient, given that police recently arrested two brothers for forging documents for Guo to use in his United States asylum application.
The cache of more than 30 forged documents purporting to be from the Chinese government or top Communist Party leaders is likely to ramp up already-high pressure on Washington to extradite Guo back to China, where he faces a plethora of serious charges ranging from bribery to rape. Guo’s saga—from his lavish flat with crystal chandeliers and a large Lego model of the London Bridge, to the extraordinary allegations he’s lobbed against the highest-ranking figures in Chinese politics, to the way everything about him is peculiarly difficult to pin down, from his real name to his birthday to his age—often seems stranger than fiction.
It’s eerily similar, however, to a less widely reported-upon case nearing its close in London: that of Alexander Adamescu, a wealthy Romanian-German businessman who’s been dodging bribery charges and a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) since 2016. Together, the two paint a worrying picture of the world’s corrupt tycoons hijacking human rights campaigns and exploiting them to evade justice.
Adamescu, like Guo, has managed to dig up prominent right-wing figures to champion his cause and prevent extradition to Romania to face justice. In his case, he’s carefully courted hard-line Brexit supporters, such as Tory MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg and Graham Brady, who were happy to regurgitate Adamescu’s carefully-crafted PR spin to bolster their argument that the UK shouldn’t adhere to the EAW scheme post-Brexit. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Guo has cozied up to Steve Bannon, even reportedly funding him after Bannon fell out of favour with the White House. He even narrowly escaped deportation in June 2017 after aides reminded President Trump that Guo was a member of his costly Mar-a-Lago club and Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to resign if Guo was extradited.
Adamescu and Guo have racked up these supporters by going on extensive media blitzes, in which they cast themselves as crusaders seeking to promote democracy and expose supposed dark truths and corruption in their home countries, though they rarely provide evidence to back up their allegations. Adamescu has pushed a complicated narrative suggesting that he was both being targeted for his political views and framed so that the Romanian state could get its hands on his sizeable wealth. Guo, meanwhile, has insisted that his native country wants to ‘destroy’ him—language which Adamescu has also used— for the barrage of corruption allegations he has unleashed against senior Communist party officials.
Adamescu and Guo’s favourite targets are even similar. Adamescu frequently strikes out at Romania’s powerful Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), suggesting that it itself is corrupt and even accusing it of having tried to kidnap his wife outside their children’s school. According to the U.S. State Department, Adamescu went so far as to force out the editorial board of the newspaper he owns, Romania Libera, because they weren’t willing to attack the DNA as virulently as he wanted. The businessman even allegedly contracted controversial Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube to smear the DNA and compromise its director, Laura Codruta Kovesi. This is a tactic Guo is highly familiar with: he relentlessly attacks Wang Qishan, Kovesi’s Chinese counterpart, and has accused China’s anti-corruption programme of abuses ranging from accepting bribes themselves to raping women in their custody. Guo’s allegations have been so wide-ranging that they “would surprise even the most jaded opponent of the CPC”, and stretch from the realistic—asserting that Wang is having an affair with a prominent actress—to the extraordinary—suggesting that Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was deliberately downed by the Chinese government to conceal an organ-trafficking racket.
While Adamescu and Guo’s sensational allegations and flashy media campaigns have gained them plenty of followers, they’ve also both drawn the ire of bona fide human rights campaigners. Adamescu’s critics have suggested that his invectives against the DNA are designed to sabotage Romania’s anti-corruption campaign for his own selfish motives, while some Chinese activists have attributed similarly self-serving motives to Guo.
Guo has to hope that this is where the parallels between him and Adamescu stop: Adamescu is currently languishing in Wandsworth Penitentiary, awaiting extradition by the end of the month. The mistake which finally landed him in the clink? Forging documents he pretended were from a government agency.