In the race to identify the American players in the transnational criminal network involved in what’s described as Russiagate, a key operative recently coughed up a big clue.
Three months ago Steve Bannon was cruising off the coast of Connecticut on a $28 million-dollar mega-yacht belonging to a shady business partner, when it was boarded by federal agents who arrested him for looting the Build the Wall Foundation.
The New York Times identified the yacht’s owner as “Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.”
That—the ‘Chinese billionaire’ appellation—is just the first big problem with the story.
They were taking Steve Bannon downtown… to the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan. There, the circumstances of his arrest lit him up like one of the Federal agents had pyrotechnic experience.
Call the yacht Bannon was lounging aboard Exhibit A.
It belongs to a man the New York Times identified as “Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.”
Which is actually the first big problem with the story. Tagging Guo Wengui as a “Chinese billionaire” is like calling famous bank robber John Dillinger a specialist in “unauthorized withdrawals.”
It may be true, as far as it goes. But it’s not an accurate description. So if there is one place where the New York Times is guilty of ‘fake news,” regularly, this is it.
From Mexico’s Carlos Slim to Russia’s Oleg Deripaska and Dmitry Rybolovlev, gangsters-turned-oligarchs are invariably referred to by the Times as billionaires, or business tycoons, or (my favorite) “billionaire philanthropists.”
The Times has a hard time calling something what it is.
The Times called Dmitry Rybolovlev—who laundered $50 million with Donald Trump by buying a mansion from him in Palm Beach—a “fertilizer magnate.”.
He’s not. He’s a gangster. He got oligarch rich through the simple expedient of murdering his opposition.
When Rybolovlev bought into Palm Beach, Russia’s “fertilizer king” was just a few short years removed from buying his way out of a murder rap in Moscow for which he was clearly guilty.
Among the matrons of Palm Beach about to get a new neighbor, that information might have caused a stir.
But it went unreported.
Selling reptiles on the Boardwalk
Back at the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan, Bannon was accused of ripping millions from the We Build The Wall foundation, a private scheme planning to build a crowd-sourced border wall along the Mexican border.
He angrily exited the Courthouse shaking his huge shaggy head after posting $3 million dollar bond, looking like a pissed-off plane owner caught on camera on “Airplane Repo.”
But it’s important to give the devil his due. Bannon’s quotes in Michael Wolf’s book offer the most cogent explanation of RusssiaGate I’ve heard. There were even a few memorable lines.
More importantly, owing to the visual Federal officials kindly provided of Bannon lounging on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht it is clear that in the global sweepstakes to find the most corrupt country to partner with on the face of the planet, Stephen K. Bannon is in a class of his own.
Bannon had already picked the winner before most of us even knew there was a contest.
So, is Steve Bannon RussiaGate’s evil genius?
He doesn’t look the part. Remember, during Watergate, the villains looked like ordinary businessmen? Maybe a little squinty-eyed. Standards have apparently been relaxed since then, ands disheveled Steve Bannon looks nothing like Nixon’s chief of staff, cool button-downed never-let-em-see-you-sweat Bob Haldeman.
“Bannon looks like a guy selling exotic reptiles on the Venice Beach boardwalk,” said Late Night host Seth Myers, in the perfect characterization.
But he’s the guy that, apparently, made the trains run on time.
Or maybe that’s just how you look when you’re able to post three million dollars bail.
Fascists in matching blue rain slicks
There are two immediate reasons to tell this story right away. Here’s one, which took place in Vancouver last week:
“A strange protest targeting the home of a Metro Vancouver-based Chinese journalist turned violent,” reported Canadian TV.
“Two men affiliated with a protest group founded by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Chinese billionaire Miles Guo brutally attacked a Vancouver activist.”
A video showed a man being sucker-punched in a normally quiet suburban cul-de-sac, and then repeatedly kicked in the head.
“One of my teeth were broken. My eyes are swollen. I can’t see out of that eye anymore,” the man said after returning from the hospital. “The bones under my right eyes were broken.”
The people involved in the protest wore matching blue rain slicks and claimed to be from the New Federal State of China, a group founded by former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and Chinese tycoon Miles Guo, who is living in exile in New York.
“Neighbors said they had introduced themselves months ago as being connected to billionaire Miles Guo. The group could be seen live-streaming to GTV, which is a group launched by Guo and Steve Bannon, a former key advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump,” CTV reported.
“To see them run over and actually attack my neighbor’s friend, punch him and kick him down on the ground, that’s just scary,” one neighbor said.
“This is probably designed to have a chilling effect on this journalist,” said a city official.
The man attacked is a member of Vancouver Chinese Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of the Chinese government.
“They pretend to be anti-CCP, but they attack the real anti-CCP, actual pro-democratic activists around the world, so we have to oppose them,” he said.
Reported Jon Woodward of CTVNews, “Guo’s group has claimed that he is in league with the CCP. But documents filed in an American court allege its actually Guo who is working with the Chinese government to target critics abroad. Guo has denied this.”
Axios reported there wasn’t just one incident last week. There were three.
Are spies involved in drug trafficking?
The mainstream media is also assiduously ignoring so far the implications of Bannon’s being busted on Guo Wengui’s yacht.
The Big Question: What does Guo Wengui know about 20 tons of cocaine in Philadelphia, which revealed that transnational organized crime is a powerful force in American life?
“Say what? Why haven’t I heard about this?”
Probably because when it comes to reporting financials on the drug trafficking industry—one of the world’s largest—the New York Times and Washington Post are always the last to know.
Evidence exists indicating the company that made Guo a billionaire may have been—or may be still—involved in global drug trafficking.
On the evening of June 16, 2019, as skies grew cloudy over Delaware Bay, a container ship more than three football fields long lumbered towards the Port of Philadelphia.
It was the MSC Gayane, second largest in the world, and one of the first of the world’s newest classes of ships, the ULCVs – Ultra-Large Container Vessels.
Onboard was 20 tons of cocaine packed into seven separate containers. It became the second biggest drug bust in American history.
“It’s a quantity that’s almost “beyond comprehension,” said Patrick Trainor, an awed spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency
The haul was worth $1.3 billion, an amount indicating it was probably being moved by a multinational corporation in cooperation with transnational organized crime.
The organization or network involved has to be capable of putting up the money to buy 20 tons of cocaine, of quickly wholesaling the drugs, and then of laundering and swiftly distributing the proceeds as they come back.
Think of organized crime as a candy store in Brooklyn selling bolita tickets and doing a little loansharking on the side.
By contrast, transnational organized crime is a three-football-field long container ship carrying twenty tons of cocaine worth one billion and change.
Curious and curiouser
The circumstances of Steve Bannon’s arrest offers clues about RussiaGate. Example: Bannon is a professed anti-globalist. It’s his schtick.
Yet he was taken into custody on the yacht of a Chinese billionaire who is one of globalization’s biggest winners. Miles Guo walked away with a big fat juicy piece of what until recently was one of the world’s fastest-growing corporations:
China’s HNA Group.
For several years he’s been one of Bannon’s closest associates and posted pics with Bannon aboard the yacht. Two leathery players posed against sleek white upholstery with windows with panoramic nautical views.
I think where Bannon was taken into custody is a crucial clue.
It’s possible The Wall Street Journal does too:
“The FBI has been looking into Guo Wengui and money used to fund his media efforts in the U.S., including his work with Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.”
“Federal Bureau of Investigation national security agents in recent months have asked people who know both men for information on Mr. Guo’s activities, including the source of funds of a media company linked to him that hired Mr. Bannon in 2018 as a consultant, the people said.”
The FBI met with someone familiar with Gao’s companies recently. The probe that has been under way for more than six months. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s offices in both Manhattan and Brooklyn are involved.”
I have gleaned a few tidbits to add, from what I’ve learned about Gao’s company’s involvement in 20 tons of cocaine being discovered aboard a container ship in Philadelphia.
No one else seemed to have paid any attention. Could they have been looking the other way?
A few weeks before Bannon was busted, the two men made an audacious pitch for a Chinese government-in-exile on his podcast over the July Fourth weekend.
In a livestream, with Bannon alongside him and the Statue of Liberty in the background, Guo said “From today the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will no longer be the lawful government of China!”
Guo arranged for propeller planes to carry banners around New York Harbor proclaiming: ‘Congratulations to the Federal State of New China!’
He continued: ‘I’m here to tell everybody that loves peace, law, humanitarian — we’re going to end the Communist Party once and for all.”
It wasn’t an extravaganza. But you had to give them points for trying.
The Popeye Cartel.
In the eighteen months since the big 20-ton seizure the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, a rabid Trump Republican, has been unable to find anyone higher-ranking to charge in the massive bust than the ships’ Second Mate.
Even the ship’s Captain got a pass, and an escort to the airport, although several crewmen implicated him in testimony.
The case is going nowhere. Maybe a citizen investigation can help.
Evidence indicates that the Russian Mob’s local affiliate in Kotor, Montenegro is behind the 20-ton drug move.
There are actually two Mafia factions operating in one small Adriatic town who have been engaged in a spectacular Mafia war that has seen dozens murdered across Europe so far.
Also a big presence in Kotor: Oleg Deripaska, who built a billion-dollar yacht club a few miles away, where some of the world’s biggest yachts call home.
Less well known, Deripaska was in business with a prominent family in Guyana whose son, Michael Francis Brassington, had been a drug pilot for 9/11 flight school owner Wally Hilliard.
Brassington will later become the notorious personal pilot of a wildly-corrupt Caribbean Premier, Michael Misick, who was at one time an item, as they say, with another of the White House denizens who pop up at odd times to help people this story.
Three Little Pigs, er, Corporate Suspects
There are three corporate suspects.
One is JP Morgan Chase, which owned the ship, and held the paper on it. The Daily Mail headline: “REVEALED: How JPMorgan’s stodgy asset management division came to own a ship that was seized in Philadelphia carrying 20 tons of COCAINE worth $1.3 billion.”
JPMorgan Might Lose a Drug Ship,” reported Bloomberg in sensational fashion, at least for Bloomberg. In truth, the bank likely had zero criminal liability in the matter.
The second corporate suspect is The Mediterranean Shipping Company, a private company in Geneva Switzerland. “The MSC Gayane is owned by J.P. Morgan Asset Management and chartered to MSC, the world’s second-biggest container ship operator.”
“MSC Gayane is a cargo ship owned by Swiss firm MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co.,” reported the Washington Post.
“MSC—the Mediterranean Shipping Company, is headquartered in Europe, has U.S. operations in several American cities, and has 54 cargo ships in its fleet.”
But they’re not MSC’s ships.
“MSC— as any lawyer can tell from scanning the statement the company issued Tuesday afternoon—is just a logistics company,” reported Bloomberg’s Matt Levine in “Money Stuff.”
“Loading a ship with drugs and sailing it into the hands of U.S. customs seems like a particularly reckless way to lose a ship,”
While calling at Philadelphia to recklessly lose JPMorgan’s $90 million ship—some provision putting at least some of the risk of MSC’s operations on MSC.”
What I learned:
That MSC is a private company, owned by a single, anonymous, very private individual from Naples, Italy.
That the seizure on the MSC Guyane had not been the only major recent bust aboard a container ship from Mediterranean Shipping Lines.
And that just three months earlier, another MSC container vessel, the MSC Desiree, was busted carrying cocaine worth $38 million.
And that the second big MSC bust, on the MSE Desiree, was also in Philadelphia, leading to questions about whether the City of Brotherly Love was a regular drop site for MSC.
For a company with two major busts aboard its vessels in three months, the statement the company issued sounded remarkably blasé.
“The company is aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo.”
Should investigators be examining the prospect that a single drug trafficking organization might be responsible for both recent drug moves on MSC container ships?
The peculiar attraction of impaling heads on pikes
On election night, Bannon threw a Washington, D.C., rooftop party for about 100 MAGA diehards. the mood inside the large, bright tent was giddy, almost feverish. Hopes were about to be dashed.
Bannon was doing a podcast. His head was on banks of TV monitors on every wall.
“It is not going well for the globalists!” he announced. “It is not going well for the elites! They’re back on their heels tonight.”
Trump, Bannon predicted, was on the cusp of “another amazing come-from-behind victory!”
We come now to the second reason to report this story right away.
Three nights later, as reality had begun to seep in, Steve Bannon’s response had been to stand up and yell “Fire!” in a theater filled with men wearing camo cargo shorts and work boots.
What he said on his podcast:
“I’d put the heads on pikes, right?”
“The heads of F.B.I. director Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci should be put on pikes. I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats,” Bannon said.
“You either get with the program or you’re gone.”
Of course, few took his words seriously. But in light of the beaten-to-a-bloody-pulp Chinese anti-corruption activist in Vancouver, perhaps they should have.
There is also this startling news about social media in 2020: A tiny number of alt-right influencers have been responsible for most the overwhelming majority of memes spreading deliberate misinformation.
Once again, Steve Bannon seems way ahead of the curve.
Tracking the paper
One big question: who owned the MSC Gayane and MSC Desiree, the two ships busted nearly back to back? The answer may not be nearly as difficult to discover as one might be imagined.
Ownership of both ships ricochets back and forth between Bermuda, Norway, Switzerland. But it always ends in the same place.
It always ends in China.
And this is where the third corporate suspect—and the likeliest prospect— China’s HNA Group, enters the picture, on whose former vice chairman’s yacht, the Lady May, Steve Bannon was lounging when it was boarded by federal agents.
The corporate owner of both recent drug smuggling container vessels is SINOCEANIC SHIPPING AS.
In turn, SINOCEANIC SHIPPING is owned by something called Sinudo LLC.
Who owns Sinudo?
China’s HNA Group
HNA Group also has another fiduciary vulnerability. The company supplied the crews for both busted container ships. ”Eight crew members from Serbia and Samoa were arrested and several have been charged in the case,” European newspapers reported.
But they neglected to report just who had been supplying the crews.
Another Deutsche Bank connection
HNA was the largest shareholder of Germany’s criminal Deutsche Bank.
Laundering the proceeds from drug trafficking has cost Deutsche Bank massive multi-billion-dollar fines on numerous occasions.
There are business synergies between HNA and Deutche Bank that would make a partnership attractive.
Another factor: China’s HNA Group has been in the eye of a life-or-death struggle for several years.
Founded in 1993, HNA started off as a local airfreight company on the tropical island of Hainan. Then the company exploded.
From a puddle-jumper airline running junkets to a Chinese holiday island to controlling Western assets of more than $238 billion dollars less than 20 years later has clearly been a wild ride.
China’s HNA Group was Michael Milken in a seersucker suit.
In the middle of its international shopping spree in 2015, HNA Group’s acquisitions can be seen as designed to facilitate drug trafficking. The company bought land in Hong Kong, a big piece of Hilton Hotels around the world, and dozens of airports, in Europe and Asia.
Not to mention the hot rumor in New York the Wall Street Journal was reporting about the startling number of top HNA executives who own literally dozens of condos at One57 in New York City, incidentally providing an excellent way for executives to move and launder money offshore.
“The world’s most expensive selfie”
There are several unique corporate circumstances which point towards HNA being a guilty party. The first came when the scandal began to consume bodies at the company.
Just as HNA was getting ready to go bankrupt—a busy time for in any corporate fraud!—Fate intervened.
Company chairman and co-founder Wang Jian inexplicably found it necessary to take—at that precise moment!—what soon became known as the world’s most expensive selfie.
Of course, even before the chairman snapped the most expensive selfie, China’s HNA Group was a hot topic of conversation. But what happened next ensured there would be a long-lasting global scandal.
It was July 3, 2018 in Bonnieux, a small village in the South of France.
the powerful boss of the Chinese conglomerate HNA died at the age of 56, on the steps of an old stone staircase.
It happened while Wang Jian, chairman and co-founder of HNA Group China, was vacationing in a hilltop village in the South of France.
According to police, “While leaning way out over an embankment to get a good shot of himself, he plunged over a cliff.”
Jian had been trying to take a selfie atop a wall overlooking a straight drop into a primordial-looking ravine.
He fell 50 feet to his death.
Some wondered: “Don’t fabulously wealthy Chinese billionaires have people to take their selfies for them?”
In locations around the globe, people immediately sprang into action. Although his death was almost immediately ruled an accident, it did not pass without controversy.
As the investigation by the gendarmerie concluded, French magazine Liberation reported they had “invalidated the hypothesis of an an accident.”
Twitter cynics and conspiracy theorists came out in force. Gao Wengui and Steve Bannon led the charge, and over the next year drove the controversy.
From an island-hopping airline flying old planes to an empire with a greater GDP than half the nations on the planet.
HNA Group successfully masqueraded as one of China’s biggest fastest growing success stories. Maybe a little over-extended. The firm’s Western assets ballooned to more than $230 billion…
Sometimes things seem fated to not end well.