Last week, the U.S. Justice Department, with minimal explanation, dropped its indictment against a 36-year-old New York City police officer who had been charged with acting as an illegal agent for China.
This adds a new entry to the annals of law-enforcement mysteries in and around Long Island. Why did federal prosecutors target him for two-plus years only to say, in layman's language, “Oops, never mind”?
Curious as it seems, the answers are indefinitely hidden behind an official curtain of purported security concerns.
It all began in September 2020 when the officer, Baimadajie Angwang, was arrested in his Williston Park home — regrettably, in front of his wife and young daughter.
Ironically, the Tibet-born Angwang’s career and credentials suggested nothing but loyalty. He was a Marine Corps veteran of Afghanistan and a naturalized citizen. He joined the NYPD in 2016, assigned to the 111th precinct in Bayside, Queens, as a community affairs officer.
Suddenly, Angwang was spending six months at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn before his Garden City lawyer, John Carman, managed to get him released on bail with home monitoring.
Now it's over, and the question is whether the public will ever know just what this abortive case was all about. Over the years, many other Chinese espionage allegations have fallen apart once in court.
Consider the recent written words of Eastern District of New York prosecutors: “As a result of our continued investigation, the government obtained additional information bearing on the charges.” They urged Judge Eric R. Komitee to dismiss the case after “having assessed the evidence as a whole in light of that information."
That’s as opaque as it gets.
The dead case might still, disgracefully, mar Angwang's reputation. Angwang told Newsday reporter Michael O’Keeffe that people continue to dump trash on his lawn and asked: “Is America still a welcoming place for immigrants like me? How much more do I have to show to gain your acceptance as a full American?”
This happens to come as the ranks of Asian Americans in the NYPD register a healthy increase. Of course, the viewpoint and background of every officer, immigrant or not, is different. But Angwang’s upbringing as publicized makes it especially surprising — barring further information — that he’d be accused of signing up with the Beijing authorities.
Angwang first visited the U.S. as a 16-year-old student on a cultural exchange visa — then returned home advocating equality for Tibetans. Angwang says he was then detained and beaten by Chinese authorities. Soon, he returned to the U.S. where he applied for and received political asylum.
The Tibet-China conflict has been deep, bitterly emotional and sporadically violent since the middle of the last century, forcing a flow of refugees beyond Asia. China and its People's Liberation Army have ruled over the expansive region since 1951.
Against this long-volatile backdrop, the Angwang allegations might well have been a mistake. Sometimes, however, the government chooses not to proceed with a case out of concern for compromising other cases or security operations. The public is in no position to know.
In recent years, Angwang did communicate with Chinese consular officials in New York, according to court filings. Phone calls were recorded. Those officials handle visas; members of Angwang’s family still reportedly live in Tibet. The ex-defendant has insisted the social deference and friendship he showed those officials were just cultural courtesies. The feds said one of those consular officials also monitors expatriate Tibetans.
Angwang suggests he was swept up due to a wide, crude net aimed at Chinese intellectual property theft and other intrigues.
For now, a not-so-minor question is whether he gets to return to full duty in the NYPD. That, too, is unknown. He reportedly remains on paid leave — not nearly as punitive as detention, but still a form of limbo.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.