FBI investigating fire at Upper East Side hotel where Chinese billionaire arrested
A fire broke out inside an Upper East Side hotel on Wednesday and the FBI is now involved in the investigation.
The FBI’s New York Field office is working to determine whether the fire at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in the Upper East Side is linked to the Wednesday morning arrest of exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, multiple law enforcement sources told reporters.
Wengui was arrested at 6 a.m. at his apartment in the building on 60th Street and Fifth Avenue on charges of various wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering.
He is accused or orchestrating a complex conspiracy to defraud thousands of people more than $1 billion.
According to investigators, much of that money was used to fund an ultra-luxurious lifestyle that included Ferraris, a $37 million yacht, and a 50,000 square-foot mansion in Mahwah New Jersey. FBI agents also executed a search warrant Wednesday morning at that mansion.
FBI agents were still inside Guo’s 15-room, $32 million Manhattan apartment at the time the fire broke out, multiple law enforcement sources told reporters. That’s about six hours after he was arrested.
The agents were forced to evacuate and reported the fire to police.
At this point, neither FDNY nor the FBI knows whether the fire was linked to the arrest. Both offices declined to comment.
After burning for two hours, the fire was under control by 1:45 p.m. There were no reports of injuries but sources say there was significant damage to Wengui’s apartment.
Wengui, referred to in court as Ho Wan Kwok, bowed to the federal magistrate in front of whom he appeared following his arrest on Wednesday.
He retained defense attorneys Josh Klein and Guy Petrillo though was represented at his arraignment by a federal defender, who entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
He consented to detention though the federal defender said his retained attorneys plan to propose a “robust bail package.”
The federal government asked for detention, citing his high flight risk.
There was no reference at the arraignment to the fire that damaged Guo’s apartment.
The fire initially appeared electrical but all options are on the table as FDNY fire marshals are working to determine the cause.
If it is deemed suspicious, that would be referred to proper authorities while Guo is prosecuted for the alleged billion dollar fraud.