Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

New York City cop spied on Tibetans for China, US says

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – A New York City police officer was charged by federal prosecutors with aiding the Chinese government’s surveillance of Tibetan nationals living in the city.

Baimadajie Angwang, 33, a naturalised US citizen who was born in China, was charged on Monday (Sept 21) with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, along with wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction of a national security background investigation by the US Defence Department, according to a criminal complaint by Brooklyn US Attorney Seth DuCharme.

An investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed Angwang, who works at the 111th Precinct in the Queens section of New York, was “acting at the direction and control” of Chinese officials, reporting on the activities of ethnic Tibetans and others in the New York metropolitan area, according to the complaint.

He also “spotted and assessed potential ethnic Tibetan intelligence sources” for China, the US said.

“State and local officials should be aware that they are not immune to the threat of Chinese espionage,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

“The Chinese government recruited and directed a US citizen and member of our nation’s largest law enforcement department to further its intelligence gathering and repression of Chinese abroad.”

Angwang has had a relationship since 2018 with two officials working at the Chinese Consulate in New York, the US said.

One of the officials works at the “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,” which prosecutors said is responsible for “neutralising sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority” of China.

Tibet, an autonomous region in China, has been the spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region, sparking a movement that calls for Tibetan independence and political separation from China.

US Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann in Brooklyn ordered Angwang to remain in custody without bail after a video hearing on Monday. Angwang’s lawyer, John Carman, told the judge his client would “present a bail package in the near future.”

Angwang should remain in custody because he has “access to significant liquid financial assets,” mostly in China, that could help him flee, US officials said.

While his sole source of income is his police salary, prosecutors say he had made large and “extremely unusual and suspicious” transactions. He’s wired almost US$200,000 (S$272,400) from a US bank to a Chinese account in his brother’s name, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say Angwang, an ethnic Tibetan, got asylum in the US after claiming he’d been arrested and tortured in China because of his ancestry. US authorities now say those claims were false, based on Angwang’s numerous trips back to China since then.

US authorities say their evidence includes recorded conversations of one Chinese official who has been Angwang’s “handler” and gave him “tasks” to perform. Angwang called and texted the second Chinese official’s mobile phone on at least 53 occasions between August 2014 and August 2017, US officials said.

William Sweeney, head of the FBI’s New York office, which is investigated the case, called Angwang “an insider threat” who used his position in the NYPD to aid China.

Angwang also is a sergeant with the US Army Reserve and holds “secret” level security clearance because of his role with the Airborne Civil Affairs team at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where prosecutors say he assists in the planning and training of civil-military programs.

Angwang’s father is a retired member of the People’s Liberation Army in China and a communist member, while his mother is a retired Chinese government official and party member, US authorities said.

The US also alleges Angwang used his NYPD position in the police department to provide Chinese consulate officials access to senior police officials during department events. Throughout all of these alleged activities, Angwang failed to notify the Attorney General that he was acting as an agent of the Chinese government, prosecutors said.

In his recorded conversations, Angwang “discussed his desire to further goals and objectives” of China, and once said he invited Chinese officials to police events in New York to “raise our country’s soft power.”

Angwang allegedly provided the names of Tibetan individuals as well as groups of disenfranchised Tibetans “to recruit as potential intelligence sources,” including one Tibetan-American who had run for public office in another state, prosecutors said.

Angwang also attended Tibetan community meetings and provided information about Chinese ethnic minority groups who “likely harboured” anti-Chinese views, prosecutors said.

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