US set to drop charges that NYPD officer spied for China

Jan 17, 2023, 6:03 PM
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 14: A police car drives through Manhattan on January 14, 2021 in New Y...
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 14: A police car drives through Manhattan on January 14, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors are dropping charges against a New York City police officer and military veteran who was accused of helping the Chinese government keep tabs on Tibetans in the United States, a case that U.S. authorities once publicized as an “insider threat.”

A court date is scheduled Thursday in Brooklyn after federal prosecutors told a judge they want to dismiss their case against Baimadajie Angwang.

“As a result of our continued investigation, the government obtained additional information bearing on the charges,” prosecutors from the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice headquarters said in a court filing Friday. The prosecutors said they “assessed the evidence as a whole in light of that information” and concluded they wanted to drop the case “in the interests of justice.”

The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office declined to elaborate Monday. A message was sent to Angwang’s attorney, who had argued in court papers that his client did nothing more than ingratiate himself with Chinese consulate officials in New York in hopes of getting a visa to visit his relatives.

A message also was sent to the Chinese consulate. Beijing has called the case “pure fabrication” meant to smear its diplomats in the United States.

Prosecutors never alleged that Angwang compromised national security or New York Police Department operations. Still, when authorities unveiled the case in 2020, the head of the FBI’s New York office termed Angwang “the definition of an insider threat.”

He was charged with offenses that include acting as an agent of a foreign government without proper notice.

An ethnic Tibetan, Angwang sought asylum in the U.S. as a youth, saying he had been arrested and beaten by Chinese authorities because of his background.

China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and China’s ruling Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say that they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that Beijing wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.

After gaining asylum, Angwang became a Marine and extended his contract to serve in Afghanistan from July 2013 to Feb 2014 before being honorably discharged, lawyer John Carman wrote in court papers. Angwang went on to join the Army Reserve and the NYPD, earning a “Cop of the Month” award in his Queens precinct in September 2018, according to the court filing.

Meanwhile, he was in close touch with a couple of officials at the Chinese Consulate.

U.S. authorities, at least initially, characterized him as an intelligence “asset” reporting on the activities of ethnic Tibetans in New York and offering Chinese consular officials an in with the NYPD.

In a November 2018 conversation with one of the diplomats, Angwang enthused about the official’s career prospects and urged the diplomat to “let them know you have recruited one in the police department,” according to a court complaint. Angwang later invited the diplomat to an NYPD Asian American officers’ group banquet, saying it would mean “you have extended your reach into the police department.”

At other points, Angwang proposed that the two visit a Tibetan community center in Queens; suggested that the consular official develop connections with certain local Tibetan groups and a political aspirant of Tibetan descent; and warned that some Tibetan American political staffers might promote anti-Chinese messages, according to the complaint, which doesn’t name either of the Chinese officials.

Angwang’s attorney countered that these conversations weren’t espionage — just “obsequious and deferential posturing” toward visa gatekeepers.

“This behavior was nothing more than what is typical of any person confronted with the dictatorial power of a low-level bureaucrat,” Carman wrote in a February 2022 court filing. “The simple fact is that Mr. Angwang did virtually nothing to help the Chinese consulate officials.”

He said that Angwang didn’t offer military or police secrets or “any information that could reasonably be described as ‘intelligence’” and that the invitations he extended were hardly exclusive. The Tibetan community center was well publicized, and the banquet regularly draws over 1,600 attendees, including high-ranking Chinese diplomats, the attorney wrote.

Regardless, the International Campaign for Tibet, a U.S.-based advocacy group, said the expected dismissal of the Angwang case “does not mean that the Chinese government is not undertaking activities to monitor Tibetans in the diaspora.”

Angwang never got a visa from the officials, the attorney said.

He is currently suspended, with pay, from the NYPD, the department said. Information on his status with the Army Reserve wasn’t immediately available.

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US set to drop charges that NYPD officer spied for China