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June 4, 2024, 12:44 p.m.
Business Models
LINK: www.justice.gov  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   June 4, 2024

The Department of Justice has charged the CFO of The Epoch Times — the shadowy, pro-Trump, conspiracy-embracing, billboard-loving, and weirdly successful media company — with conspiring to launder at least $67 million in illegally obtained funds. (If you’d hoped to attend The Epoch Times School of Journalism, you might want to make other plans.)

The CFO, Weidong “Bill” Guan, “managed, among other times, the Media Company’s ‘Make Money Online’ team,” which “used cryptocurrency to knowingly purchase tens of millions of dollars in crime proceeds,” according to the indictment. Guan also allegedly lied about the source of the funds:

In or about 2020, the Money Laundering Scheme caused tens of millions of illicit dollars to be transferred into the Media Entities’ bank accounts. In fact, that year, the Media Company’s internal financial accounting reflected an increased annual revenue over the previous year of approximately 410 percent — from approximately $15 million to approximately $62 million. […]

At times, Guan falsely stated that the increase of funds reflected “profit” from the work of the Media Company’s Foreign Office that it had “donated” to the Media Entities. At other times, Guan falsely stated that the increase of funds was from customer “subscriptions” to the Media Company. And at still other times, Guan falsely stated, including to U.S. banks, that the increase in funds was attributable to increased “donations” by supporters of the Media Company. In truth and in fact, and as Guan well knew, the unlawful proceeds of the Money Laundering Scheme drove the increase in funds to the Media Entities’ accounts. […]

In or about Jaunary 2022, Guan wrote a letter addressed to a congressional office falsely stating that “subscriptions contribute the major portion of [the Media Company’s] revenue,” and that “[c]haritable donations” constitute “an insignificant portion of the overall revenue.” However, in truth and in fact, and as Guan well knew, the Money Laundering Scheme drove the Media Company’s increased revenue in 2020 and 2021.”

The Epoch Times’ revenue continued to skyrocket; as Brandy Zadrozny reported for NBC News last year, “The nonprofit has amassed a fortune, growing its revenue by a staggering 685% in two years, to $122 million in 2021, according to the group’s most recent tax records.” And:

In January [2023], at the height of its traffic, the Epoch Digital Network, which includes The Epoch Times and its video sharing website, Youmaker, clocked a little under 10 million unique viewers, placing it 78th on Comscore’s ranking of news and information websites. Though its metrics fall far short of legacy media organizations, The Epoch Times generally outperformed its conservative peers, including Newsmax and The Daily Caller.

In a statement on its website, The Epoch Times said: “The Epoch Times was founded to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) persecution of innocent people. The Epoch Times has a guiding principle that elevates integrity in its dealings above everything else. The company intends to and will fully cooperate with any investigation dealing with the allegations against Mr. Guan. In the interim, although Mr. Guan is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the company has suspended him until this matter is resolved.”

Anyway, cue the jokes about “hey we finally found a journalism business model that works!”

Photo of an Epoch Times billboard in Minneapolis by Chad Davis being used under a Creative Commons license.

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