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Conspiracy theory-fueled newspaper Epoch Times grew revenue 4x thanks to CFO's crypto crime proceeds, feds say

Jack Newsham   

Conspiracy theory-fueled newspaper Epoch Times grew revenue 4x thanks to CFO's crypto crime proceeds, feds say
  • The Epoch Times, a media company linked to China's Falun Gong movement, has grown massively.
  • It says its pro-Trump, conspiracy theory-heavy editorial content has won donations and subscriptions.

The Epoch Times, a US media company linked to Chinese dissidents that seemingly shot to success by embracing Donald Trump and conspiracy theories, significantly funded its growth with proceeds of cybercrime, according to federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department said the company's CFO, Weidong "Bill" Guan, was arrested on June 2 and charged with money laundering in New York. The DOJ indictment claims that he and others "used cryptocurrency to knowingly purchase tens of millions of dollars in crime proceeds" and plowed it into the Epoch Times starting in 2020.

The Epoch Times wasn't named in court records, and the Justice Department said the case had nothing to do with its editorial slant. The indictment only mentioned a "multinational media company headquartered in Manhattan." However, the outlet could be identified because Guan is listed online as its CFO and because the financial numbers in the complaint come close to what the Epoch Times has reported to the IRS.

According to the indictment, most of Guan's criminal activity mentioned in the indictment took place in 2020, 2021, and 2022, but prosecutors say that up until last month, Guan helped launder "at least $67 million."

The time period overlaps with a period of major growth for Epoch Times, whose revenue grew from $15.5 million in 2019 to more than $70 million in 2020 and over $120 million a year in 2021 and 2022, according to its nonprofit tax returns.

According to prosecutors, Guan and the Epoch Times' offshore "Make Money Online" team, or MMO team, used cryptocurrency to buy prepaid debit cards loaded with proceeds of fraud, like unemployment insurance fraud, starting in April 2020. They used the prepaid cards and financial accounts that were opened with stolen personal information to plow millions of dollars into the Epoch Times' bank accounts, prosecutors say.

"When banks raised questions about the funds, Guan allegedly lied repeatedly and falsely claimed that the funds came from legitimate donations to the media company," US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a press release.

The Epoch Times said in a statement that it had suspended Guan, though it said that he was innocent until proven guilty.

"The Epoch Times has a guiding principle that elevates integrity in its dealings above everything else," the statement said. "The company intends to and will fully cooperate with any investigation dealing with the allegations against Mr. Guan."

NBC News reported last year that the Epoch Times, which is linked to members of the Falun Gong group that has been repressed by China's government, grew by sending out free physical copies of its newspaper to hundreds of thousands of people and that it has focused on conservatives over age 60. The publication claims it's the fourth-largest newspaper in the US by subscriber count, but unlike other media outlets, its circulation figures aren't audited.

Other outlets have noted the Epoch Times' willingness to play up stories about vaccine injuries and to traffic in conspiracy theories, like the idea that the Biden administration is trying to reduce food production and force Americans to eat bugs.

June 3, 2024, 7:45 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include a comment from Epoch Times received after publication.