Civil lawsuit charges rejected by his lawyers

Steve Wynn sued by U.S. to force his registration as a Chinese foreign agent after alleged lobby to protect Macau operations

2022-05-19
Reading time 2:08 min

The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday sued former Wynn Resorts CEO Stephen Wynn seeking to compel him to register as a foreign agent. The lawsuit alleges the casino mogul lobbied Donald Trump in 2017 on behalf of the Chinese government, which sought the return of an exiled businessman.

In the complaint filed in federal court in Washington D.C., the Justice Department said Wynn engaged in those efforts at the request of Sun Lijun, a former Vice Minister of China’s ministry of public security, and did so to protect the operations of casinos in Macau owned by Wynn’s company. The government in Macau had restricted the number of gaming tables and machines that could be operated at Wynn’s casino, the complaint alleges, and he was scheduled to renegotiate licenses to operate casinos in 2019. 

The action marks “the first affirmative civil lawsuit under FARA in more than three decades,Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement Tuesday, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Bloomberg reports. The law, which has been invoked in criminal cases, requires individuals to register with the U.S. attorney general before lobbying on behalf of foreign nationals. 

The department said it had advised Wynn repeatedly over the last four years to register under FARA, and it is suing now because Wynn refused to do so.

Wynn’s lawyers rejected the charges and said they would contest the suit. “Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig said in a statement. “We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”

The Justice Department brought a civil lawsuit against Wynn because charging him with a criminal violation would have required the government to prove he willingly violated the law, according to Bloomberg.

Elliott Broidy, a former Trump fundraiser who pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying, sought Wynn’s help on behalf of Sun, according to the lawsuit. Broidy had been cooperating with prosecutors in their investigation of fugitive businessman Jho Low’s push on behalf of China for the U.S. to extradite Guo Wengui, a wealthy exile who criticized China’s government. According to the court filing, Wynn told Trump during a June 2017 dinner about the Chinese government’s desire to have the businessman removed from the US, and gave the man’s passport photos to Trump’s secretary.

The case is Attorney General of the US v. Stephen A. Wynn, 1:22-cv-013712, US District Court, District of Columbia.

Steve Wynn stepped down from Wynn Resorts in 2018 after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. In March, the Nevada Supreme Court said a lower court lacked jurisdictional standing when it ruled in 2020 that state gaming regulators don’t have jurisdiction over Wynn after he left Wynn Resorts on his own. The seven justices unanimously ruled that Clark County District Court Judge Adriana Escobar should not have decided the matter because the Nevada Gaming Commission had not yet ruled on a 2019 request by the Gaming Control Board to have Wynn declared formally unsuitable to hold a gaming license. 

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