Image source, Getty Images

  • Author, Holly Honderich
  • Role, BBC News, Washington

The chief financial officer of The Epoch Times news outlet has been arrested over his alleged involvement in a massive money-laundering scheme.

Federal prosecutors allege that Bill Guan, 61, participated in a global plot to launder at least $67m (£52m) of illegal cash to benefit himself and The Epoch Times.

According to the indictment, Mr Guan led the outlet’s “Make Money Online” team, which used cryptocurrency to purchase tens of millions worth of crime proceeds.

Mr Guan has not yet entered a plea. If convicted, he could spend more than 30 years in prison.

The Epoch Times did not reply to an immediate request for comment. Mr Guan could not be reached by the BBC.

In the 12-page indictment, federal prosecutors detailed the alleged plan, which they say began around 2020.

The plot, prosecutors said, was simple: members of the Make Money Online (MMO) team would purchase crime proceeds via cryptocurrency at a discount and transfer those proceeds into bank accounts held by entities affiliated with newspaper.

The illegal proceeds would ultimately be moved back into The Epoch Times accounts through “tens of thousands of layered transactions”, including through prepaid debit cards and financial accounts opened using stolen identification information.

According to the indictment, for years the scheme worked to enriched The Epoch Times, pumping tens of millions of dollars into the paper.

Coinciding with the time Mr Guan came up with the alleged scheme, the outlet’s internal accounting showed its annual revenue balloon by some 410% – from $15m in 2019 to roughly $62m the following year.

When banks asked Mr Guan where the surge of money was coming from he lied, claiming the funds came from “donations”, prosecutors said.

Mr Guan has been charged with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of bank fraud.

Prosecutors noted these charges “do not relate to the Media Company [The Epoch Times’] newsgathering activities”.

Founded in 2000, The Epoch Times began as a small, low-budget newspaper handed out for free in New York.

It was started by Chinese-Americans affiliated with a religious group called Falun Gong.

In the years since, it has grown into purportedly one of the US’s most powerful conservative news organisations and a home to conspiracy theories, right-wing misinformation and sharp opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

They boast tens of millions of social media followers and online audiences that match or rival that of sites like The Daily Caller and Breitbart News.

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