FBI: Trie's Donations Came From Overseas
Week four of hearings focuses on fund-raising activities of Charles Trie
By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (July 29) -- An FBI agent testifying at the Senate's campaign finance hearings concluded that Charlie Trie, a Little Rock businessman and friend of Bill Clinton, laundered about $220,000 in donations to the Democratic National Committee, using money from overseas sources.
As the fourth week of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearings kicked off this morning, FBI special agent Jerry Campane outlined a complex maze of large wire transfers to Trie totaling more than $900,000.
The money was wired from Asia by Trie's wealthy business partner, Ng Lap Seng, who was referred to during today's proceedings as "Mr. Wu," the Mandarin version of his name. Wu is a Chinese citizen with businesses based in Macau, a Portuguese colony on China's southwest coast.
In all, Trie received $1.4 million through 41 separate wire transfers from overseas in the '90s. Seventeen of those came from Wu and his firm, San Kin Yip International Trading Company.
Campane (appropriately pronounced "campaign") told the committee that in his professional opinion the $220,000 that made its way into DNC coffers through donations by Trie or Trie's wife must have come from these overseas transactions because Trie's income could not have covered the contributions.
"The contributions can be connected with specific wire transfers. Mr. Trie relied on Mr. Wu's foreign wire transfers to make contributions to the DNC," Campane said. Banking records show that Trie's accounts could not have covered the donations without the infusion of wired money.
A 'slam dunk' example of money-laundering
In describing one particular transaction, Campane said it was a "slam dunk" example of laundering money, as the person who gave the money reimbursed herself by writing a check from a Trie bank account.
As an FBI agent detailed to the Senate committee, Campane testified as an investigator for the committee. He did not have access to information the FBI is gathering in its criminal investigation for the Justice Department.
Wu reportedly has connections to the Chinese government. Some Republican senators questioned whether the money wired to Trie could have been funneled through Wu by a third source, possibly as part of a "Chinese plot" to influence American elections.
But Campane said it was impossible to identify the "precise source" of the money, because Wu has refused interviews with investigators. "I am unable to say whether any of the funds that appeared to originate with Mr. Wu may have come from an earlier originating source. Mr. Wu has not made himself available to answer that kind of question which I would certainly like to put to him," Campane said.
Campane did say that no connection between the money wired by Wu and the Chinese government had been found and that Wu was wealthy enough to have easily provided the funds in question. The DNC has since returned those improper contributions.
There is also no evidence that the president, the vice president or DNC officials were aware of the source of the contributions, Campane testified.
Yue Chu, Xiping Wang testify
In afternoon testimony, Yue Chu and Xiping Wang testified under immunity about donations they gave to the Democrats that were reimbursed on the same day by Keshi Zhan, an associate of Trie's. The reimbursement checks written by Zhan were from one of Trie's accounts.
Both women testified that Zhan had approached them to make "loans" to her to be immediately repaid. Because Zhan was a close friend, Chu and Wang said they were willing to help her out, they testified.
Chu is the wife of an employee of San Kin Yip, Wu's company. Her husband is a manager of Wu's restaurant business in Beijing. The other witness, Wang, is a distant relative of Zhan.
They also said it was their understanding that Wu wanted to get "a ticket" to the White House and they wanted to help him get admittance. The money ultimately helped secure a ticket to a fund-raiser at the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House.
Both said they had "no idea" that what they were doing amounted to illegal money laundering.
A restaurant owner who came to Washington
Born in Taiwan, Trie emigrated to the United States and settled in Little Rock, Ark. Working in, and later co-owning, a Chinese restaurant in town, Trie befriended then-Gov. Clinton.
When Clinton was elected president, Trie followed his longtime friend to Washington in hopes of expanding his business opportunities there. He opened a Washington office of his international business consulting firm in a Watergate apartment.
"Trie believed that he could capitalize on his friendship with the president and members of his staff who Trie knew from Little Rock," Campane said.
Trie visited the White House at least 23 times, sometimes escorting Chinese businessman as part of his consulting services. Included in this group was Wang Jung, a Chinese business executive who is under investigation in an arms smuggling case in the U.S.
Clinton appointed Trie to the Presidential Commission on Asian Trade Policy, but the businessman appeared to have not had any effect on policy, Campane said, referring to interviews with commission members. Trie had produced one report for the commission, written by an employee of his, which was described by members of the commission as "laughable" and was dismissed.
During interviews, Campane said, those who knew Trie said he wanted to become an "executive" in the DNC and that drove his heavy giving to the Democrats. Trie would become a managing trustee of the DNC and pledged to raise some $350,000 for them. Campane said this "surprised" people who knew Trie in Little Rock because they felt Trie was unqualified to raise such a sum.
Campane said people he interviewed described Trie as an "uneffective" businessman who was "unfocused" and had difficulty actually generating real business for his companies after he closed his Chinese restaurant in Little Rock, Ark. The FBI agent speculated that Trie's motivation to help the Democratic party by was based primarily on his desire to better his financial standing.
Trie, now an American citizen, is believed to be in China and has refused to come back to testify before the hearings or be interviewed by Senate investigators.
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