Politics

New York City police officer spied on fellow Tibetans for China, prosecutors charge

Key Points
  • A New York City police officer who also serves in the U.S. Army Reserve was arrested Monday on a federal charges of acting as an illegal agent of China.
  • The police officer, Baimadajie Angwang, who was born in the autonomous region of Tibet in China, allegedly repeatedly reported to officials at the Chinese Consulate in New York on the activities of other ethnic Tibetans in the New York area.
  • A complaint said that Angwang "used his official position in the NYPD to provide [Chinese] Consulate officials access to senior NYPD officials through invitations to official NYPD events."
The logo of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) is placed on a surveillance camera near Ground Zero during the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Alexandra Schuler | picture alliance | Getty Images

A New York City police officer who also serves in the U.S. Army Reserve was arrested Monday on federal charges that accuse him of spying on fellow ethnic Tibetans while acting as an illegal agent for China.

The 33-year-old cop, Baimadajie Angwang, who was born in the region of Tibet in China, allegedly reported to officials at the Chinese consulate in New York on the activities of other Tibetans in the New York area.

Angwang, after appearing remotely in federal court in New York via teleconference, was ordered by a judge to be detained without bond after prosecutors said he "presents a serious risk of flight" to avoid the criminal charges. Angwang's lawyer reserved his right to argue for bail at a later date.

If convicted, Angwan, a resident of Nassau County, Long Island, face a maximum possible prison sentence of 55 years.

Authorities noted in a criminal complaint that Angwang, who currently works for the New York Police Department's community affairs unit in the 111th precinct in Queens, "initially traveled to the United States on a cultural exchange visa."

But after overstaying a second visa he "eventually sought asylum in the United States on the basis that he had allegedly been arrested and tortured in the [People's Republic of China] due partly to this Tibetan ethnicity," the complaint said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, in a detention memo, said that despite Angwang's claims, an investigation found that "Angwang has traveled back to the PRC on numerous occasion since his asylum application was granted."

"These are not the actions of an individual who fears torture or persecution at the hands of the PRC, thus showing that his U.S. citizenship was secured through false pretenses," the memo said.

VIDEO14:0914:09
Here's what's at stake as Trump's White House takes on China over the coronavirus

The criminal complaint said that beginning as early as 2014, Angwan maintained a relationship with one Chinese official at the consulate, and then in 2018 developed a relationship with a second official there, who was his handler and whom he called "Boss."

The second official is believed to have been assigned to a department responsible for neutralizing sources of potential opposition to the PRC

Tibet, which China occupied in 1951, is seen as a threat to the stability of the communist regime because of calls for the region's independence, particularly by Tibetans at home and overseas who consider the self-exiled Dalai Lama, a Buddhist leader, their spiritual guide.

The complaint says that Angwang texted or called the consulate officials more than 100 times since 2014. The complaint also contains transcripts of some of those calls, during which Angwang proposes his handler attend Tibetan events in Queens, and asked whether that official "wanted to attend NYPD events 'to raise our country's soft power.' " 

According to court filings, Angwang "currently holds the rank of Staff Sergeant" in the Army Reserve, "and is stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey in an Airborne Civil Affairs battalion."

He previously served on active duty in the U.S. Marines from 2009 to 2014, and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 through 2014, according to the Army, which did not comment on his arrest.

The criminal complaint said that Angwang, "while acting at the direction and control of PRC officials, has, among other things ... reported on the activities of ethnic Tibetans, and others, in the New York metropolitan area to the Consulate" of China.

He also allegedly "spotted and assessed potential ethnic Tibetan intelligence sources in the New York metropolitan area and beyond," the complaint said.

And Angwang "used his official position in the NYPD to provide Consulate officials access to senior NYPD officials through invitations to official NYPD events," the complaint said.

Angwang is charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the U.S. attorney general, wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Angwang works as a civil affairs specialist for the Army Reserve. As part of his job there, he holds "Secret" level security clearance.

Authorities said that Angwang's father is a retired member of China's army, and a member of the nation's Communist Party, while his mother is both a Communist Party member and a retired Chinese government official. His parents live in China, as does his brother, who is a reservist in the People's Liberation Army.

According to the complaint, Angwang in 2016 wired a total of $150,000 to accounts in China controlled by his brother and another individual.

"Angwang has also received multiple substantial wire transfers from the PRC," the complaint said.

"State and local officials should be aware that they are not immune to the threat of Chinese espionage," said John Demers, the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, in a prepared statement.

"According to the allegations, the Chinese government recruited and directed a U.S. citizen and member of our nation's largest law enforcement department to further its intelligence gathering and repression of Chinese abroad."

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, in a statement said, "As alleged in this federal complaint, Baimadajie Angwang violated every oath he took in this country."

"One to the United States, another to the U.S. Army, and a third to this Police Department," said Shea. "From the earliest stages of this investigation, the NYPD's Intelligence and Internal Affairs bureaus worked closely with the FBI's Counterintelligence Division to make sure this individual would be brought to justice."

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry on Tuesday called the accusations against Angwan "pure fabricaion."

"The [criminal complaint] is full of hedging terms such as 'seems' and 'possibly,' indicating the falsehood of the accusations," the spokesman said. "The U.S. won't succeed in its smears against Chinese consulates and personnel in the U.S."

The New York Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents patrol officers such as Angwang, last November posted on Facebook a photo from a delegates meeting at which Angwang presented the American flag.

The post said that Angwang, while serving with the U.S. military, had served one tour in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan. That claim conflicts with the Army's statement about Angwang's service, which says he only did the tour in Afghanistan.

The PBA's post was removed by the PBA after Angwang's arrest became public.

A PBA spokesman said the union is not representing Angwang in the criminal case.