What to Know
- A 33-year-old NYPD officer has been arrested for allegedly providing the Chinese government with information on ethnic Tibetans in New York; he also faces charges including wire fraud and obstruction
- Baimadajie Angwang is also employed by the U.S. Army Reserve, serving as a civil affairs specialist out of Fort Dix, where he holds a "secret" level security clearance that officials claim he lied to obtain
- In a separate memo to the court, federal prosecutors say they want Angwang held awaiting trial given his strong ties to the Chinese government and the financial means to flee
A 33-year-old NYPD officer and ethnic Tibetan native of China has been arrested for allegedly acting as an agent of a foreign government and lying to obtain asylum in the United States, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said Monday.
The cop, Baimadajie Angwang, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen and patrol officer with the 111th precinct in Queens, is also accused of lying about his foreign contacts, the complaint said. He allegedly was engaged in the espionage-related activity from May 2018 through his arrest.
Angwang faces charges including acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the attorney general, wire fraud, making false statements about his contacts and obstruction of an official proceeding.
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Around May 2019, Angwang allegedly engaged in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Defense and "obtain money and property from the U.S. government by means of one or more materially false and fraudulent pretenses,
representations and promises," the federal complaint alleges.
To achieve that end, Angwang allegedly transmitted a fake Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which is a standard form required for jobs that require a certain level of security clearance. On that questionnaire, he allegedly lied about having "extensive contacts with government officials from the People’s Republic of China" and lied about having ongoing contact with family in China, some of whom were affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is the armed forces unit of the Chinese government.
The obstruction charges stem from the allegedly falsified documents he submitted for his own national security background investigation.
"This is the definition of an insider threat — as alleged, Mr. Angwang operated on behalf of a foreign government; lied to gain his clearance, and used his position as an NYPD police officer to aid Chinese government's subversive and illegal attempts to recruit intelligence sources," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney.
Angwang, who currently lives in Nassau County's Williston Park, first came to the United States on a cultural exchange visa. He overstayed a second visa and eventually sought asylum in the U.S. on the basis he had been tortured in China due in part to his Tibetan ethnicity, the complaint says. Thousands of Tibetans are believed to have been killed by the People's Republic of China since China occupied and took control of the region in 1951.
Officials believe that asylum request was also predicated on a lie, given Angwang has traveled back to China several times since his application was granted and has significant ties to family members who still live in the People's Republic.
In addition to patrolling the 111th Precinct, Angwang serves on its crime prevention team and is currently assigned to the community affairs unit, where he serves as a liaison between the NYPD and the community. He has received at least one award from the Police Benevolent Association, sources say. NYPD officials said he was a member of the department for about five years, and was being tracked for three of those.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said 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."
Angwang served in the U.S. Marine Corps until 2014, and spent time in Afghanistan. After the Marines Corps, he joined the Army Reserve, where he holds the rank of Staff Sergeant and is stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in an Airborne Civil Affairs battalion. In that role, Angwang is a civil affairs specialist who advises command on tactical and operational deployment of Civil Affairs teams and assists in planning, training, advising and executing civil-military programs, the complaint says. He holds a "secret" level security clearance in connection with that job; the complaint says he would not have received that clearance level had the Department of Defense been aware of his foreign connections.
Furthermore, he would have been dismissed from the U.S. Army Reserves entirely had the organization been aware of the relationship he allegedly had with two Chinese consulate officials in the New York area dating back to at least 2018.
"The defendant allegedly violated his sworn oath to serve the New York City community and defend the Constitution against all enemies by reporting to PRC government officials about the activities of Chinese citizens in the New York area and developing intelligence sources within the Tibetan community in the United States," said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme.
Recorded conversations have revealed one of those contacts, thought to be his "handler," serves on the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,” which is tasked with "neutralizing sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of the People's Republic of China," the complaint claims.
Those sources would include members of the Tibetan Independence Movement, a group that spawned right after the Chinese takeover in 1951 and seeks to reclaim its independence and political separation.
Investigators believe Angwang received tasks from that consulate contact and reported back to that contact. Between June 18 and March 2020, he allegedly called or texted that contact's phone at least 55 times. He also called or texted the second consulate official at least 53 times between August 2014 and 2017.
Federal officials accuse Angwang of providing information on ethnic Tibetans in New York and elsewhere to the Chinese government, scouting out Tibetan intelligence agents and using his official NYPD position to get Chinese consulate officials access to senior NYPD members via official event invitations.
None of those activities fall within the purview of his responsibilities with the NYPD or the U.S. Army Reserve, the criminal complaint says.
At one point, Angwang allegedly told his alleged "handler" about a new Tibetan community center in Queens. He said they should visit it together. When the official balked, Angwang said, according to court documents, "If it’s good or not, you need to know about this for your work’s sake. They are the biggest venue for activities right now. If they are involved with politics, then in the future more than half of the meetings might take place there."
In another conversation, the official congratulated Angwang on a looming NYPD promotional exam, to which Angwang allegedly said he was doing it, "for the people back home." The officer said his police job was valuable to China because he could provide information on the NYPD to the consulate, court papers say. That included non-public information about internal NYPD operations. Angwang also allegedly had talked about recruiting local Tibetans as Chinese agents; there were conversations about rewarding potential recruits with 10-year U.S. visas.
Angwang also allegedly told his supposed "handler" that U.S. citizens of Tibetan ethnicity were working in New York offices of elected officials, and that certain staff members could potentially use their access to promote positions unfavorable to the Chinese government within their districts.
Angwang's ties to the People's Republic of China transcend his alleged conversations with the consulate officials: His father is a retired member of the People's Liberation Army and a People's Republic of China communist party member. His brother is a reservist in the PLA and his mother a retired government officials and Chinese communist party member, the federal complaint says.
All three of those relatives reside in the People's Republic of China. Angwang allegedly has wired $100,000 from his U.S. bank account to his brother in China and $50,000 from another U.S. bank account in his name to an unidentified person who also has a People's Republic of China bank account. The People's Republic of China has also wired tens of thousands to him, the feds say.
In response to the arrest, the International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement that the alleged actions would show "that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in malign operations to suppress dissent, not only in Tibet, where Tibetans are oppressed and denied all freedoms, but any place in the world where Tibetans are free to express themselves." The statement went on to say that "By strictly limiting access to Tibet for the Tibetan American community, the Chinese government tries to create an atmosphere of suspicion among members of the community and tries to exploit it to its advantage."
The leader of the New York-based group Students for a Free Tibet said that Angwang tried to infiltrate the group and "get more info on the community" before they became suspicious of his motives, given that he was never an active member of the community before.
Angwang appeared in Brooklyn federal court with his attorney early Monday evening, and was ordered held without bail after not entering a plea. In a separate memo to the court, federal prosecutors said they wanted Angwang held awaiting trial given his strong ties to the Chinese government and the financial means to flee. Angwang faces up to 55 years in prison, if convicted.
The NYPD could not immediately be reached for comment on the arrest. News 4 has also reached out to the police union for comment. The Chinese consulate also did not respond to several requests for comment.