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Criminal probe shines light on anti-China group’s wide links

AS INVESTIGATORS probe the links of arrested Epoch Times finance chief Bill Guan, the spotlight is spreading to include other individuals and organizations.

  • Anti-China campaigner John Zhong Zhang, Epoch Times founder and CEO, resigned. He and Guan have been replaced by a temporary board.
  • Li Hongzhi, leader of the Falun Gong religious cult behind the group, issued a warning that followers should not assume that the US government was on their side.
  • A probe of financial filings showed that connected New York touring performance group Shun Yen had a multi-million dollar jump in its accounts after Guan started what investigators said was a criminal money laundering scheme.
  • Conspiracy-filled anti-China television channel New Tang Dynasty received US$50 million over two years from the Epoch Times Association, the paperwork showed—but there are strange gaps in the data.
  • Guan has been told he will reappear in court on Friday this week (June 21).
  • There will also inevitably be questions in Asia about US government-linked bodies which worked with Epoch Times—including Freedom House and Radio Free Asia.


Recap: On June 4, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York charged a man named Weidong “Bill” Guan with setting up a scheme involving large numbers of small transactions to disguise the laundering of US$67 million—which investigators described as proceeds of crime.

Guan was chief financial officer of Epoch Times, a freesheet launched in 2000 by members of a modern, bizarre religious cult, Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa), followers of Li Hongzhi, who moved from China to the US. While the paper started as an amateur effort given out on the streets, it quickly grew to being a wealthy and high profile multinational media group, published in at least 35 countries and in 22 languages.


Epoch Times successful registered itself in the United States as a 501 c3 charity, when meant that it would not have to pay tax—this is curious, given its widely known political aim to cultivate negativity towards China.

Investigators could see that payments in 2020 and 2021, totalling more than US$13 million, were made by the Epoch Times Association to the Shen Yun Performing Arts Center in New York.

Roger Friedman of Showbiz411 wrote that the transfer solved a mystery, since he had long been puzzled about how a stage group could afford slick TV ads and poster campaigns. “Where do they get the money for all this promotion? And the production, with its extravagant elements rivaling the Met Opera?” he asked in a column on the entertainment news website this week.


The Epoch Times Association filings also reveal more than US$50 million given to Universal Communications Network, which produces the New Tang Dynasty TV channel. The station focuses on conspiracy theories on subjects ranging from vaccines to claims that the Chinese government engages in “live organ harvesting”. (These have been so comprehensively debunked that even US government news outlets won’t publish them.0

The group has been growing at high speed. As recently as 2016, the Epoch Times’ reported annual revenue was just US$3.9 million. By 2021, total revenue was US$121.5 million.


In 2001, Freedom House gave Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong an International Religious Freedom Award at a ceremony in the United States Senate—an action widely seen as a deliberate dig at China, which had warned that the group was serious trouble (an observation that now seems prophetic). Freedom House, despite being presented in the mainstream media as if it was an independent think tank, is known to insiders as an arm of the US State Department, which has funded it for years.

Separately, Falun Gong adherents developed a software product called UltraSurf which they claimed could be used to disseminate information in a way that could not be accessed by local law enforcement—clearly helpful to US-supported anti-China bodies in places such as Hong Kong.

UltraSurf initially received development money from the US State Department, and there were later efforts to partner the Falun Gong project with Radio Free Asia—whose Open Technology Fund has similar aims. RFA-OTF eventually did offer a “secure node” for anti-China campaigners in Hong Kong in 2019, although it is not known whether this was directly derived from UltraSurf.


As for taking sides in US politics, Falun Gong mostly stayed out of partisan battles until 2015, when Donald Trump began to be seriously seen as a potential leader of the country.

The group came to believe that “Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the communist party,” former Epoch Times sub editor Ben Hurley told NBC news in a 2019 report.


After the arrest, Falun Gong chief Li Hongzhi blamed his followers for assuming that the US government was on their side in an essay published in Epoch Times after the arrest: “You were thinking that it’s hard to fight the CCP’s persecution without funds, and wanted to make money for this cause; and that the U.S. government would be understanding if something wasn’t handled quite right. But that was your own thinking.”

But despite the obvious anti-China agenda that lies just below the surface of the Epoch Times’ cluster of groups, their media is growing in readership—while western mainstream media, which at least makes a token effort at serious journalism, is struggling.

A study of US news websites across four years showed that “the vast majority of news websites on all sides of the political spectrum experienced significant declines in year-over-year unique visitors”. But the Epoch Times rose by 18 per cent, said Howard Polskin of The Righting, which did the study.


But why is a media outlet with such a negative main narrative, sharing crude accusations against China, so popular? Commentators have repeatedly pointed out the attractions of fear-mongering.

“There’s an incredible demand for a version of the world centered on one big villain,” Angelo Carusone, president of the media watchdog Media Matters for America, told the UK Guardian newspaper in a 2021 interview. “Epoch Times provides that very simple narrative.”


Illustration at the top by fridayeveryday.

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