Casino mogul Steve Wynn accused by US of lobbying on behalf of China

The US justice department has sued to force former casino mogul Steve Wynn to register as a foreign agent and accused him of lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of the Chinese government.

The complaint filed on Tuesday said Wynn lobbied then-president Donald Trump, who had taken a hard line on China, and members of his administration in 2017 to deliver a request from Beijing to deport an unnamed businessman who left China in 2014 and sought political asylum in the US.

A person familiar with the matter confirmed that the person was Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman and prominent critic of the Chinese Communist party living in exile in the US. Guo was at the centre of Chinese political drama in 2017, when he publicly criticised the Chinese Communist party via social media, casting doubt on the integrity of Beijing’s anti-corruption purge, which was spearheaded by China’s vice-president Wang Qishan on behalf of President Xi Jinping.

Wynn, the billionaire casino magnate who resigned from his company in 2018 amid sexual misconduct accusations, refused three previous requests to register as a foreign agent, the justice department said. During his career, Wynn had held licences to operate casinos in Macau in addition to his well-known Las Vegas casinos such as the Mirage and the Bellagio.

According to the DoJ, Wynn’s alleged lobbying activity took place in the summer of 2017, not long after the government in Macau, the Chinese gambling hub, restricted the number of gaming tables and machines his casino could operate. Prosecutors noted Wynn was due to renegotiate his casino licenses in 2019. “[Wynn’s] conduct was motivated by his desire to protect his business interests,” the justice department said in the complaint.

The complaint did not specify further instances of Wynn lobbying on China’s behalf after the alleged incidents in June and August 2017, but said his failure to register “constitutes an ongoing violation of [the Foreign Agents Registration Act] and given the likelihood that this violation will continue in the absence of court action, a permanent injunction is necessary”.

Matthew Olsen, an assistant attorney-general in the justice department’s national security division, said the move against Wynn was the first civil lawsuit under the Fara to be filed in 30 years.

“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,” Olsen said.

Lawyers representing Wynn, 80, said he “has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act”, adding that they disagreed with the justice department and looked forward “to proving our case in court”.

The DoJ has alleged Wynn was working on behalf of Sun Lijun, China’s former vice-minister for public security, and the People’s Republic of China when he informed Trump officials of the deportation request.

In May 2017, Sun asked Elliott Broidy, the former finance chair of the Republican National Committee, and others to raise the request with the Trump administration, according to the complaint. The next month, Broidy asked Wynn for help in the lobbying effort, it said.

“Broidy believed that [Wynn’s] business dealings in the PRC and friendship with then-president Trump, would be helpful in getting access to Trump administration officials,” according to court filings.

Broidy previously pleaded guilty to violating Fara, and was subsequently pardoned by Trump as he left office.

After a phone call with Sun in June 2017, Wynn agreed to raise the issue with Trump, a former casino owner himself, according to the complaint. Later that month, Wynn discussed the case with Trump and other administration officials during a dinner in Washington, the complaint said, and handed over the person’s passport photos to the president’s secretary.

Wynn had several calls that summer with Sun, who pressed the case that the Chinese businessman’s US visa should not be renewed, while Wynn discussed his business interests in Macau on multiple phone calls, the complaint said. Wynn also discussed the case with Trump, including during a phone call from Broidy’s yacht during a cruise in Italy, prosecutors alleged.

By the autumn, however, Wynn told an associate of Sun’s that he was unable to provide more assistance and asked that he stop contacting him, prosecutors said in the complaint.

“[A]s a private citizen, I believe I have exhausted the advantages of my position,” Wynn wrote in a text, according to the complaint. “If there is any other aspect of this situation that may occur to you going forward, I would of course be anxious to help. I remain grateful for the privilege of being part of the Macau and PRC business community.”

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