Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a New York City police officer with acting as an illegal agent of the Chinese government, accusing him of providing intelligence about Tibetans living in the United States to officials at the Chinese consulate.
The officer, Baimadajie Angwang, 33, was taken into custody on Monday, officials said. He has served as a patrol officer and most recently worked as a community affairs officer in the 111th precinct in Queens.
A 25-page criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn accused Mr. Angwang of reporting on the activities of ethnic Tibetans in New York at the behest of Chinese government officials, who were seeking to recruit intelligence sources in the community.
He also is accused of inviting a Chinese official to N.Y.P.D. events, offering potential access to senior police officials, prosecutors said.
The allegations raised serious questions about how much visibility Chinese government officials had inside the country’s largest police department and about the extent of Chinese efforts to conduct covert surveillance of Tibetan Americans.
Born in China, Mr. Angwang is a naturalized U.S. citizen who is ethnically Tibetan. In addition to being a police officer — he was once named “Cop of the Month” — he is a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve, where he had a “secret”-level security clearance, allowing him access to classified information, prosecutors said.
Since at least 2018, Mr. Angwang has communicated regularly with two consular officials in New York, including one whose department was responsible for “neutralizing sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority” of the Chinese government, according to prosecutors.
The criminal complaint mentioned several recorded phone calls between Mr. Angwang and the unnamed official, including one as recently as January.
In October 2018, Mr. Angwang suggested to the official in one call that they visit a new Tibetan community center in Queens, saying it could help with spotting potential “intelligence assets,” the complaint said.
“If it’s good or not, you need to know about this for your work’s sake,” Mr. Angwang said to the official, according to prosecutors. “They are the biggest venue for activities right now.”
That same month, Mr. Angwang received the “Cop of the Month” award from the New York Police Department, according to a Facebook post that has since been removed.
A lawyer for Mr. Angwang declined to comment. The Police Department said Mr. Angwang, who joined the force in 2016, had been suspended without pay.
Tibet, an autonomous region in China, has been a flash-point in U.S.-China relations for decades. Beijing considers Tibet to be part of its historical empire, but many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China in 1951 and have pressed for independence. The Chinese government has long viewed the Tibetan independence movement as a threat to its stability.
A spokesman for International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group in Washington, said in a statement that the allegations showed the Chinese Communist Party was seeking to suppress dissent not only in Tibet, “but any place in the world where Tibetans are free to express themselves, starting with the United States of America.”
In addition to the charge of acting as an illegal agent, Mr. Angwang faces three other counts of wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction.
The recorded conversations cited in the complaint indicated that Tibetans who agreed to become intelligence sources would be compensated by the Chinese government for information they provided.
In one May 2019 telephone call, Mr. Angwang suggested to the consular official that one way to recruit Tibetan-Americans as intelligence assets would be to reward them with 10-year visas to visit China, prosecutors said.
Mr. Angwang also told the official that his position was valuable to China because he could provide sensitive information about the internal operations of the Police Department, the complaint said.
Mr. Angwang asked the official if he wanted to attend Police Department events “to raise our country’s soft power,” and invited the official to an annual banquet for Asian-American police officers, according to prosecutors.
When the official seemed reluctant, Mr. Angwang replied that the consulate should be happy because “you have extended your reach into the police department,” the complaint said.
Mr. Angwang first traveled from China to the United States on a cultural exchange visa, the complaint said. He later sought asylum, claiming that he had been arrested and tortured in mainland China because of his Tibetan ethnicity.
But prosecutors suggested in a court filing that Mr. Angwang secured his American citizenship under false pretenses, noting that he had traveled back to China after being granted asylum. “These are not the actions of an individual who fears torture or persecution,” prosecutors wrote, arguing against bail.
Mr. Angwang’s parents and brother still live in mainland China. His parents are members of the Communist Party, and his father is a retired member of the Chinese military, the complaint said.
Ashley Southall contributed reporting.