A media venture formed by far-right political strategist Steve Bannon and exiled Chinese real-estate developer Guo Wengui was slapped with a $539 million fine by the SEC for raising funds through an illegal, unregistered private offering.

GTV Media Group Inc., Saraca Media Group Inc. and Voice of Guo Media Inc., are accused of raising $487 million from more than 5,000 investors between April and June of 2020, without ever registering the stock and coin sale with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Bannon, a onetime top strategist for Donald Trump as presidential candidate and then as president, and Guo, a fierce critic of the Chinese government, founded the media operation in 2020.

Bannon and Guo billed the media companies as “the first ever platform which will combine the power of citizen journalism and social news with state-of-the-art technology, big data, artificial intelligence, block-chain technology and real-time interactive communication,” according to the SEC complaint. 

The SEC complaint said the platforms claimed they would be “the only uncensored and independent bridge between China and the Western world.” 

Critics have accused the network of operating a vast disinformation operation across its own platforms and through social media.

Through promotions on the companies’ own websites and on platforms including Twitter
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the media group raised the cash by hawking shares in the businesses and through a cryptocurrency offering of G-Coins and G-Dollars, the SEC said.

“Issuers seeking to access the markets through a public securities offering must provide investors with the disclosures required under the federal securities laws,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, deputy director of the SEC’s enforcement division. “When they fail to do so, the Commission will seek remedies that make harmed investors whole, such as an unwinding of the offering and a return of the funds to the investors.”

Bannon and lawyers for Guo didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The SEC said the companies had agreed to pay the fine to settle the charges that it broke securities laws.

In June, several backers of GTV Media filed a civil complaint against the company in federal court in Arizona, saying they had never received any documentation of their investment.

At the time, the companies said everything had been done properly and that the money was all intact.

See also: These ‘We Build the Wall’ donors say they aren’t victims of fraud: ‘I hope I get to donate again’

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