Fund-Raiser Surrenders To FBI at Dulles AirportBy Roberto Suro and Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 4, 1998; Page A01
Democratic fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie surrendered to FBI agents at Dulles International Airport yesterday, ending his self-imposed exile in Asia to face a 15-count indictment on charges that he funneled illegal foreign funds to the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection effort.
Trie returned to the United States -- "voluntarily," his attorney said -- under an agreement with the Justice Department task force that is investigating the campaign finance scandal. But no final understanding has been reached as to whether Trie will cooperate with the task force, department officials said.
Merely taking Trie into custody marks an achievement for the 15-month-old task force, which has not brought any other cases related to the 1996 election, and there is the prospect of a major breakthrough if Trie agrees to provide information in exchange for a plea deal.
Trie, a Taiwanese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, arrived at Dulles aboard a flight from Paris shortly after 4:30 p.m. yesterday and turned himself in to waiting FBI agents assigned to the task force. He was taken to the federal courthouse in Alexandria and released on a $200,000 bond after a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan. Trie, 49, appeared in a tweed sports coat, a bright yellow dress shirt, and a blue and black tie.
He is scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Thursday for a formal arraignment.
A longtime friend of Bill Clinton's from the time when the Arkansas governor used to frequent his Little Rock restaurant, Trie was a major figure in a concerted effort by the Democratic National Committee in 1995 and 1996 to raise money from Asian Americans. That effort has produced most of the serious allegations of wrongdoing to emerge from the campaign finance scandal. The DNC has returned $645,000 raised by Trie, saying it came from illegal or suspect sources.
Federal investigators believe that Trie might have firsthand knowledge about the activities of John Huang, a former top Commerce Department and DNC official who raised $1.6 million eventually returned by the DNC. Trie also might know whether top DNC or White House officials were aware that large amounts of illegal funds were being collected, investigators said.
Trie was indicted last Wednesday on charges that he funneled illegal foreign donations to the DNC in a conspiracy with Yuan Pei "Antonio" Pan, a Taiwanese national who worked as a top executive of the Lippo Group, the same Indonesian-based conglomerate that employed Huang before he entered government service.
According to the indictment, between 1994 and 1996 Trie attended more than a dozen presidential galas, White House coffees and other such events that afforded him and his business associates access to top administration officials, including President Clinton and Vice President Gore. For example, Trie arranged a private tour of the White House in 1996 for Wang Jun, chairman of a weapons-manufacturing firm owned and operated by the Chinese government.
Trie, who quit the restaurant business in 1991 and started his own trading firm that had business ventures both in Asia and the United States, left the country in late 1996 after becoming a focus of media reports about the fund-raising controversy. Since then, investigators said, he has spent time in Hong Kong, Macao and Beijing.
In a statement last night, Trie's lead attorney Reid H. Weingarten said, "Charlie Trie voluntarily returned to Washington today to face the charges pending against him. Because of this act, any questions about his being a fugitive from justice or a spy for a foreign power should be put to rest. We are confident that when the media frenzy and political savagery associated with this case abate and this matter is aired in court, Mr. Trie will be fully vindicated."
Congressional Republicans, who have sharply criticized Attorney General Janet Reno for the slow pace of the Justice Department campaign finance investigation, found something to praise in yesterday's unexpected development. "I applaud the Justice Department for getting him back to this country and am hopeful it will lead to explanations of other foreign contributions and who was involved," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), whose Government Reform and Oversight Committee is also investigating the fund-raising controversy.
Trie is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington. As part of his bond arrangement, he must file deeds for two properties in Little Rock, including his home, within a week. He was ordered to surrender his passport, and his travel is restricted to the D.C. area, Arkansas and the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Kahoe said that two of the 15 counts against Trie carry a maximum penalty of 10 years, and the other 13 carry a maximum of 5 years and a $250,000 fine.
Trie and Pan are charged in a scheme whereby they allegedly collected money from foreign businessmen, who could not legally make contributions to U.S. political campaigns, and then distributed the funds to "straw donors," who were citizens and legal residents and who then made donations to the DNC.
The indictment charges that Trie and Pan "purchased access to high level government officials in the United States by contributing and soliciting contributions to the DNC" for the purpose of advancing their business interests, but it does not identify the officials or the favors that the conspirators sought from them.
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