Sun sued Sinopec in Hong Kong and Beijing courts in 2004 and 2005, respectively, for breach of contract, according to his lawsuit and news reports at the time. Sinopec countersued, claiming that Sun had bribed the former chairman of his original joint-venture partner to obtain the exclusivity clause. Sun claims that Sinopec then conspired with Chinese authorities to imprison him and seize his assets. In August 2005, he was detained and flown to a detention center in the Jilin province in northeast China.

Sun was imprisoned there for five years, cut off from his wife and children. At one point, he claims he endured a 30-hour nonstop interrogation session, not provided food or water nor allowed to use the bathroom.

Sun said he faced two trials on charges of bribery and embezzlement during those years; each time, the indictments were withdrawn. After being released in 2010, he said he spent another two years under house arrest.

Sun also lost assets while he was in prison. He said his personal property, real estate and stakes in companies including GeoMaxima were auctioned off or transferred to other entities by Chinese authorities.

That was made easier due to the structure of his companies: He had set up more than a dozen offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and Cayman Islands in order to take advantage of laxer regulation and tax savings. GeoMaxima, for example, became publicly traded after a reverse merger between a British Virgin Islands company and a listed Hong Kong company. The lax regulation might have proved to be part of his undoing: Sun now says it allowed employees to later change the company’s ownership while he was imprisoned.

Sun claimed he amassed a net worth of at least $5 billion, a difficult assertion to substantiate. Records indicate his holdings in GeoMaxima exceeded $300 million in 2002, and holdings in another public company, Canada’s Maxy Oil, peaked at around $20 million in 1998. He stated in legal filings that his share of XinJiang XingMei Oil Pipeline Co. Ltd., the private joint venture that once had exclusive rights to the Tahe oil field, was worth $5 billion. That number could be speculative: Profits from that pipeline reportedly peaked only in the tens of millions of dollars before Sinopec built the second one.

Move and legal fight

Sun moved to Los Angeles in 2012, taking up with relatives in the San Gabriel Valley and filing for asylum. His attorneys would not discuss the status of his asylum request. A Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman declined to confirm a request as a matter of policy.