Add embattled casino titan Steve Wynn to the list of irritants in the rivalry between the United States and China.
Justice Department officials sued to force Wynn to register as an agent of the Chinese government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act on the grounds that he tried in 2017 to persuade then-President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials to deport a Chinese national wanted by the communist regime. The allegation makes Wynn the latest high-dollar Republican donor to get entangled in a legal drama that previously led to the indictment of another GOP megadonor, Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from lobbying on behalf of foreign interests, but Chinese officials maintain that he is innocent, a victim only of the simmering tensions between Washington and Beijing.
“The U.S. move is based on nothing but hearsay to deliberately hype up the ‘China-threat’ theory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday in response to the federal suit against Wynn. “China always develops relations with other countries based on such principles as mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. We hope the U.S. will discard the Cold War and zero-sum mentality and stop making an issue of China at every turn.”
Federal investigators allege that Wynn urged Trump’s administration “to cancel the visa or otherwise remove from the United States” a Chinese businessman wanted by security officials in his home country and that he made the pitch “at the request of” Chinese Ministry of Public Security Vice-Minister Sun Lijun, who first broached the subject through Broidy and then directly with Wynn.
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“In or around June 2017, Sun spoke by telephone with [Wynn] and requested [his] assistance with seeking the removal of the PRC national,” the civil lawsuit unveiled this week alleges. “[Wynn] agreed to raise the matter with then-President Trump and Trump Administration officials. [Wynn] had no prior connection to the PRC national or independent interest in his removal.”
Wynn has denied any wrongdoing and refused to register as a foreign agent. “Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” his attorneys, Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig, said Tuesday. “We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”
DOJ officials maintained that Wynn advocated on behalf of Sun with an eye toward currying favor that would “protect his business interests” in China, an apparent desire signaled by a message in which he appears to tell Chinese officials that he had “exhausted” his ability to help.
“If there is any other aspect of this situation may occur to you going forward, I would of course be anxious to help,” Wynn wrote to a person whom he “believed … to be Sun’s assistant,” as the civil suit puts it. “I remain grateful for the privilege of being part of the Macau and PRC business community.”
The Chinese national targeted by the lobbying campaign reportedly was Guo Wengui, a fugitive who claims that he is being persecuted for whistleblowing in China and cultivated his own alliances in Trump’s orbit. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon was on a yacht reportedly owned by Guo when he was arrested by federal agents in a separate fraud case.
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“Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people a right to know,” DOJ Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said.