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‘Conduits’ for DNC Cash TestifyBy Guy Gugliotta
and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 30, 1997; Page A01
The questions were coming fast and furious yesterday about the checks Yuefang Chu wrote to the Democratic National Committee at the request of "my husband's boss." Did she worry that the checks were illegal? "No." Did she ask what they were used for? "No." Did she know where they were going?
"I know nothing," the young woman said through an interpreter. Minority counsel Alan I. Baron looked inquiringly at the nervous woman sitting next to Chu.
"I know even less," said Xiping Wang.
The two Gaithersburg women were the first witnesses presented by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee who actually wrote illegal checks to the DNC, however unwittingly. They were granted immunity by the panel yesterday to help investigators trace the fate of more than $1.4 million in foreign wire transfers to Democratic fund-raiser Charles Yah Lin Trie. Most of that money came from Trie's business partner, Macao real estate tycoon Ng Lap Seng.
Trapped like deer in front of the committee's headlights, the two women offered the senators a first glimpse of some of the more innocent participants in the investigation of campaign improprieties, which is now entering its fourth week.
Chu, whose husband is employed by Ng, and Wang, who is related to Chu by marriage, were brought before the committee to describe how they were used as "conduits" by Trie and Ng for nearly $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic Party and its candidates.
Coaxed gently through their testimony by majority counsel Don Bucklin, Chu recounted how her husband told her that "his boss [Ng] was coming to the states and wanted to go to the White House and needed to buy a ticket to pass the gate."
The "ticket," in this case, was a $25,000 contribution to the DNC. An assistant to Trie and Ng asked Chu to write checks totaling $20,000, then reimbursed her from an account controlled by the two men. Chu telephoned Wang to get the last $5,000.
As Bucklin questioned the pair, photographs of Chu's checks engraved with pictures of kittens and cocker spaniel puppies flashed on closed circuit television.
"I feel badly that you have been forced to be here," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said finally. "I can see you're not major participants in this drama."
"You are right," Chu said.
For most of the day, the committee heard testimony from FBI special agent Jerome Campane, who outlined Trie's upward path from a Little Rock restaurateur in the late 1980s to a glad-handing Washington insider and fixer for Ng, who was the source of $905,000 of Trie's wire transfers.
Campane testified that, "in my opinion," Trie illegally laundered money on Ng's behalf and gave $220,000 to the Democratic Party. That money has since been returned.
Trie's attorney, Reid Weingarten, said in a statement yesterday that the "great bulk" of Ng's wire transfers to Trie were for "routine and legitimate business expenses, including rent, staff salaries, telephone and travel costs."
In addition, Weingarten said, Ng "entrusted Mr. Trie with some of these funds to make political contributions," and "because Mr. Trie had authority to place contributions and because he made contributions with his own funds, he believed it entirely appropriate to make contributions in his own name." Weingarten said Trie "never made contributions that he believed violated the law."
Trie is in China "on business," his lawyer said, and is not a fugitive. He added that Trie is trying to find a way to provide the Senate panel with information relevant to its investigation.
Campane described how Trie opened an import-export business in 1990, failed to make any money and decided to move to Washington in 1994, where he opened an office in the Watergate complex and became a Democratic fund-raiser and man about town, Campane said, visiting the White House and squiring Asian businessmen on tours and trips.
Trie did this, Campane said, with the money received from Ng and from other foreign sources, which transferred an additional $500,000 to him between 1994 and 1996.
Ng acknowledged in two interviews with The Washington Post this year that his relationship with Trie goes back to 1992. Ng has refused to speak with the committee.
Campane said several times that because Trie or Ng have not provided testimony to Senate investigators, he was unable to determine whether Ng's money had come from another source, specifically the government of China.
The committee has been briefed by the FBI and CIA on the existence of a plot by China to influence U.S. elections, but some senators have said there is no evidence it was ever carried out.
Campane also said no evidence had arisen thus far linking Trie or Ng to the plot. Weingarten dismissed as "preposterous" the idea that Trie was a spy.
Committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), who spoke about the China plot at the opening of the hearings, suggested yesterday that greed rather than espionage may have motivated most of the investigation's wrongdoers: "This may all boil down to the insatiable desire for money and what people are willing to do to get it."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company