U.S. sues to compel Steve Wynn, casino magnate, to register as agent of China

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The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Steve Wynn to compel the hotel and casino magnate and Republican megadonor to register as an agent of China.

The following, filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that Wynn, former chief executive of Wynn Resorts, leveraged his relationship with President Donald Trump and members of his administration to advance Beijing’s interests in 2017. The government said the complaint is the first affirmative civil lawsuit under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in more than 30 years — a sign of stepped-up enforcement efforts under the 1983 law.

Wynn, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, is accused of relaying a request from a senior Chinese official asking that the Trump administration remove a Chinese national who had sought asylum in the United States. His activities, prosecutors assert in the lawsuit, included discussing Beijing’s interests directly with Trump during a dinner in June 2017 and providing the Chinese national’s passport photos to the president’s secretary. Wynn, the government argues, was acting at the behest of the Chinese official, Sun Lijun, then-vice minister for public security, as well as of the Chinese government itself.

“In so doing, from at least June 2017 through at least August 2017, the Defendant acted as an agent for foreign principals Sun and the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and engaged in political activities on their behalf in the United States,” the complaint states.

The Chinese national is not named in the complaint, but prosecutors have previously identified him as Guo Wengui, who had left China in 2014 and was later charged with corruption.

Wynn attorneys Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig of Washington-based Steptoe & Johnson said: “Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, who heads the Justice Department’s national security division, said the suit “demonstrates the department’s commitment to ensuring transparency in our democratic system.”

“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,” he added in a news release.

Wynn was advised three times, beginning in 2018 and finally last month, to register under FARA but declined to do so, according to the complaint.

The magnate stepped down as RNC finance chairman in January 2018 and as CEO of Wynn Resorts the following month in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied. He and his wife have remained prolific political donors, contributing about $2.5 million to Republican candidates and committees in the first three months of this year, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The Justice Department has said that Wynn was approached to work with China by longtime GOP and Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who worked under Wynn as deputy RNC finance chairman after Trump’s 2016 election as president. Broidy pleaded guilty in October 2020 to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, admitting to accepting millions of dollars to secretly lobby the Trump administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests. Broidy agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a recommendation of leniency at sentencing, which remains pending, and to forfeit $6.6 million.

In August 2017, Broidy and Wynn called Trump from Wynn’s yacht and asked about the status of Guo, a Chinese exile and vocal online critic of the Chinese government, according to court documents and people with knowledge of Broidy’s case. Guo, who was seeking asylum in the United States, was once allied with China’s government elite but was later sought by authorities in Beijing on charges of fraud, blackmail and bribery. He has denied those charges and said they are politically motivated.

“Broidy believed that the Defender’s [Wynn’s] RNC experience, combined with the Defendant’s business dealings in the PRC and friendship with then-President Trump, would be helpful in getting access to Trump Administration officials,” the Justice Department lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that Broidy was working on behalf of Sun, the senior Chinese official, who later spoke by telephone with Wynn and asked for his assistance with seeking Guo’s deportation. Working through Broidy in June 2017, Sun also sought Wynn’s help in getting Guo placed on a US no-fly list and having his new visa application denied, the Justice Department said.

Wynn “agreed to raise the matter with then-President Trump and Trump Administration officials,” the suit alleged, even though he “had no prior connection to [Guo] or independent interest in his removal.”

A spokesman for Broidy declined to comment.

Wynn made his own attempt to pass a message about Guo directly to Trump from Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to two people with knowledge of the episode. In a private meeting around June 2017, Wynn told Trump why Xi felt so strongly about the United States returning Guo to China, handing Trump two pictures of Guo, the people said.

At the time, Wynn had significant business interests involving China, operating a major casino in Macao.

Guo, a Chinese billionaire who has succeeded in remaining in the United States, has been closely aligned with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chief and top White House strategist.

The investigation of Broidy and later Wynn has its roots in a probe of the multibillion-dollar embezzlement from a Malaysian government development fund that has come to be known by the shorthand “1MDB.”

In previous civil and criminal cases, federal prosecutors have alleged that some of the stolen money made its way into the United States, where it was used among other things to buy pricey real estate and even fund the award-winning movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was accused of being involved in the corruption. He was convicted in July 2020 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

At the center of the investigation is a Malaysian businessman named Low Taek Jho, who was indicted in 2018 and accused of funneling tens of millions of dollars into the United States in part to get the Malaysian corruption investigation dropped. Low, who is facing multiple federal indictments, is believed to be in China, outside the reach of US authorities. He has denied the allegations and said they are politically motivated.

Separately, Broidy business associate Nickie Mali Lum Davis also pleaded guilty, as has a former Justice Department employee, George Higginbotham. Former Fugees rapper Pras Michel, who is charged in connection with separate dealings with Low, has denied wrongdoing.

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