U.S. citizen held in China for past 18 months as spy

Naturalized American never formally indicted, family and officials say

September 08, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING - A 66-year-old naturalized American citizen has been jailed here for 18 months on suspicion of gathering state secrets, his relatives and American officials revealed yesterday.

In violation of Chinese legal procedure, Fuming Fong, an electrical engineer from West Orange, N.J., has not been formally indicted. For most of his incarceration, his family says, Fong has been subjected to a gratuitous torment: He has been deprived of his badly needed eyeglasses and hearing aid.

News of Fong's arrest is the latest of several cases involving Chinese-born Americans on vague security grounds.

After 1 1/2 years of seeking his release quietly, Fong's wife and two sons are taking his case to Congress and the American public, and it threatens to become a new irritant in Chinese-American relations just as President Bush prepares for his first official visit next month. Chinese leaders are eager to strengthen ties with the United States, which they see as vital to their country's modernization.

Fong's relatives insist that he is innocent of the charges, which center on technical documents Fong had in his laptop computer in his role as a consultant to American power companies.

He was arrested Feb. 28, 2000, shortly after arriving in Beijing for a meeting with the American company Babcock & Wilcox, which was bidding for a contract for a power transmission project financed by the World Bank.

Fong never arrived at that meeting, but it appears that authorities were more concerned about documents he had from earlier projects, his relatives said.

Jerome Cohen, an attorney in New York who is advising Fong's family, said Fong was formally arrested in September 2000 but not indicted on specific charges. Even with all legally allowable extensions, Cohen said, Fong should have been indicted or released within seven months.

"They haven't been able to come up with any plausible rationale for holding him 18 months without an indictment," said Cohen, who has long experience in China and has advised several other Chinese-born citizens and green-card holders who were arrested here.

Cohen said he had learned that the state security bureau and police had twice tried to present a case for prosecution, but both times prosecutors sent it back for lack of convincing evidence.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed yesterday that Fong was in detention and had been visited numerous times by consular officers, who have recently been able to deliver needed medications. But officials said that, under American privacy law, they cannot discuss details of the case.

Fong was a senior engineer and an electric-power official in Zhejiang province before he moved to the United States in the late 1980s. His wife, who was born in the United States while her parents were attending graduate school in the 1930s, was already a citizen, and Fong was naturalized as a citizen in 1994.

Fong was accused initially of bribing Chinese officials to obtain confidential information. But security agents soon decided to treat the technical documents in his computer as state secrets, and Fong is being held in a Beijing detention center of the Ministry of State Security, which handles spy cases.

According to a statement by his family, Fong told a lawyer that none of the documents had been marked as confidential. Most were from previous power projects, he said, and many had been provided by his multinational clients.

As for the bribery charges, the authorities have not provided any details or evidence, the family said, nor was there any sign that any Chinese officials had been arrested for providing him with secret documents.

After nearly a year of being denied access to a lawyer "on the ground that the case involves state secrets," his family said, authorities relented, and he has had five visits from a Chinese lawyer. But these visits have been of limited help, Cohen said, because Fong had trouble hearing the lawyer through the glass partition.

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