President Donald Trump was reportedly on the verge of deporting billionaire Chinese fugitive Guo Wengui, but changed his mind after aides informed him that Guo is a fellow billionaire and a member in good standing at the president’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago.
According to Vanity Fair‘s Isobel Thompson, Guo is wanted on charges of rape, bribery and kidnapping in his native China.
Much like Trump, the international fugitive is a wealthy real-estate developer with a massive Twitter following and an intense interest in building and promoting his personal brand.
Longtime Trump friend and casino magnate Steve Wynn delivered Trump a letter from the Chinese government demanding Guo’s extradition. Trump was inclined to take his friend’s advice, in spite of the conflict of interest posed by the fact that Wynn is dependent upon China’s approval to obtain licenses for his casinos in Macau.
Guo built a real estate empire in Beijing, but fled China in 2014 after being informed that he was about to be arrested. Since then he has taunted the Chinese government on Twitter, telling sensational — and possibly apocryphal — stories about Chinese government corruption.
There is no extradition treaty between China and the U.S. — meaning Trump is not obligated to hand over criminals wanted in China. Guo bought a $67.5 million apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City.
In May, Chinese government operatives visited Guo at his apartment — in violation of their visa status.
Thompson explained, “Entering the country on a visa that allows foreign government officials to travel through America en route to another destination without conducting official business, they met Guo at his apartment and pressured him to return to China and drop his accusations.”
The officials were nearly arrested at JFK airport, which could have sparked an international incident.
In June, Trump met with aides to discuss foreign policy toward China. He stunned the group by producing the letter forwarded to him by Wynn and saying that he was inclined to agree to the extradition.
Fearing that the handover would make the U.S. look weak and establish a dangerous precedent with foreign governments, aides urged set about trying to convince Trump not to fulfill China’s request.
They informed Trump that Guo “happens to be a member of his Mar-a-Lago resort (a privilege that costs $200,000 in initiation fees plus $14,000 in annual dues),” Thompson said. “The president subsequently changed his mind, exposing a secondary set of even more problematic biases. Apparently, Trump was more than happy to allow a wealthy friend to pressure him on foreign policy — until he was made aware of an even more pressing concern,” the possibility of losing a paying member of Mar-a-Lago.