By Tori Richards and Earl Glynn | Watchdog.org
To hear Democratic Party big-shot Terry McAuliffe tell it, he’s an auto tycoon and a savior, a businessman who brings the latest technology to a marketplace eager for electric cars. He’ll produce jobs. He’ll make money. He’ll save the planet. And he’d like to be the next governor of Virginia.
“I’m founder of a company called GreenTech Automotive, a very ambitious project. … It’s gotten a lot of press because I’ve done something I’m not sure anyone else has ever done,” McAuliffe boasted in a 2011 speech immortalized on YouTube and prominently displayed on the Virginia Democratic Party’s web site. “I went to China and bought one of their big electric car companies and moved a manufacturing company from China to the United States of America.”
In February, GreenTech’s web site made a similar claim, saying the company was founded in 2006 by McAuliffe, a man “recognized as one of America’s leading political and business leaders, including his role as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.”
Even now, few seem to know precisely where GreenTech came from, taking McAuliffe’s claims at face value.
A new Watchdog investigation reveals a very different origin story.
Watchdog researchers pored over hundreds of Chinese and American websites, public documents, archived Chinese news articles and trade publications, and a voluminous federal lawsuit. These reveal that the company’s 2009 birth had less to do with McAuliffe than with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Democratic Party lobbyist G. John O’Hanlon and two Chinese entrepreneurs.
In fact, no public record exists of McAuliffe joining their party until a year later.
The Clinton Connection
O’Hanlon is a wheeler dealer and the go-to guy for someone needing a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. He spent several years in the mid ‘90s as a partner in McAuliffe and Kelly, the firm McAuliffe founded and ran as managing partner. O’Hanlon went on to start his own company and become finance director for the Democratic National Committee. He has personally doled out nearly $450,000 in campaign contributions over the years to the nation’s highest-profile Democratic politicians.
So it’s no surprise that a fledgling Chinese car company asked for his help in getting investors before setting up shop in America.
That company was called Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings, the brainchild of Rong Yang, China’s Lee Iacocca. Yang founded Brilliance Auto, the first China automobile company to blaze its way onto the New York Stock Exchange. He also brought a BMW partnership to China, and made Forbes’ 2001 list of China’s wealthiest people.
The train of successes came to an end a year later when the Chinese government seized control of his business and charged him with “economic crimes,” according to a lawsuit Yang filed in America against China.
Yang fled to America, changed his name to Yung “Benjamin” Yeung and became a U.S. citizen. He then did what he knows best: he started a car company.
Yang — now Yeung — brought aboard Chinese entrepreneur and attorney Xiaolin “Charles” Wang, a lawyer licensed to practice in both China and the United States. Wang had directed the Asia practice at two different U.S. firms and then became CEO of Capital Wealth Holdings, a British Virgin Islands investment company with an interest in the car manufacturing business.
Their company, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings, was incorporated in Delaware on March 28, 2008. The pair intended to solicit funds via America’s EB-5 program, which offers foreign nationals a U.S. visa in exchange for investments of more than $500,000 and the creation of jobs in targeted industries and economically distressed regions.
A subsequent federal lawsuit shows the pair hired O’Hanlon in April 2008 for a $240,000 yearly retainer. In return, O’Hanlon promised to help get EB-5 donors and “lobby to enact Legislation and/or regulation” to create a new, vastly expanded “Super EB-5” visa program. The Super EB-5 visas would be available only to “environmentally friendly investments” — investments like Hybrid Kinetic.
That’s when Bill Clinton entered the picture.
The former president had formed the William J. Clinton Foundation and installed McAuliffe as one of its directors. One of the foundation’s projects is the Clinton Global Initiative, which holds yearly New York meetings with the world’s leaders in an effort to stamp out hunger, disease, environmental problems and economic woes.
On Dec. 2 and 3, 2008, CGI held an Asian summit in Hong Kong. A Hybrid Kinetic brochure heralded the ex-president’s talk a day later before a company-sponsored forum:
“Our company’s strategic goal also promotes the themes promoted by President Clinton Global Initiative Asia, where President Clinton will join several hundred Asian leaders from various backgrounds to work together to examine specific challenges and the solutions to overcome them in Asia.”
Hybrid Kinetic paid Clinton $300,000 for the speech.
Wang seized on Clinton’s participation in the company event as evidence of the ex-president’s support for the car company Yeung had only recently launched.
“Former President Bill Clinton also has been active in the project, traveling to Hong Kong and introducing company representatives to heads of state at his recent global initiative,” Wang would later tell a Memphis Daily News reporter.
And a Google translation of a Chinese media blog touted Clinton’s visit with Hybrid Kinetic, apparently inviting members of the public.
“(Y)ou will have the opportunity to learn about their new perspective to look at the relationship between energy and environment to listen to their views on to (sic) open up new areas of enterprise in the world economic turmoil environment, explore new ideas and looking for new opportunities,” the blog asserted.
Terry McAuliffe clearly got a new opportunity.
Just 25 days later, one of Hybrid Kinetic’s top officials donated $25,000 to his Virginia gubernatorial campaign. McAuliffe’s campaign disclosure documents show that was followed by a contribution of $50,000 from Hybrid Kinetic Automotive on May 27, 2009, and $10,000 a week later from a second company executive.
But infighting between Yeung and Wang doomed the partnership. In 2009, Yeung filed a federal lawsuit in Mississippi accusing Wang of trying to steal the business. The parties ultimately reached a confidential settlement finalized in July 2009. The two men went their separate ways — Yeung kept the name Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings and set up shop in Alabama, where he is working on producing hybrid cars.
Though McAuliffe and GreenTech have claimed McAuliffe was present at the 2006 birth of GreenTech, Wang was the owner of WM GreenTech Automotive Corp., according to the company’s original state of Virginia business filing, on Oct. 9, 2009. He brought McAuliffe on board five months later. McAuliffe is not listed on incorporation documents pertaining to the inception of either Hybrid Kinetic or GreenTech.
The Hong Kong Connection
The same year McAuliffe joined GreenTech as its chairman, the company bought EuAuto Technology Ltd., owners of the design for a small electric car developed at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
McAuliffe has made numerous statements about his commitment to commerce and how his new “MyCar” — the name EuAuto gave its creation — will drive America’s export economy.
“I’m sick and tired of seeing big cargo ships coming in from China,” the New York Times reported McAuliffe saying in September 2011. Four months earlier, he implied that those ships were already loaded with his electric cars, steaming westward across the Pacific, bound for China.
But in reality, there are no MyCars on our highways — let alone cargo ships steaming out of U.S. ports, destined for the rest of world.
McAuliffe, a veteran political player who has run large organizations, can’t have forgotten that he isn’t, in fact, the founder of this one. Just as strange, he apparently forgot for several months that he had left the company. On Apr. 5, GreenTech quietly announced that McAuliffe had resigned from GreenTech four months earlier — just a few days before Watchdog began its investigation. But speaking before a Jan. 22 Business Day in Richmond, Virginia, McAuliffe had implied he was still in charge.
“I’m building electric cars now,” he told the forum.
Contact Tori Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @newswriter2.
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