President Joe Biden’s appointee representing U.S. business interests in Asia should be investigated for his ties to an alleged Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intelligence front group, multiple legal experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Dominic Ng, CEO of East West Bank, may be required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and he may have also violated The Espionage Act (TEA), legal experts told the DCNF after reviewing relevant statutes. Ng served in leadership positions within two organizations identified by China experts as CCP intelligence front groups, the DCNF revealed in a recent investigation.
“It may be prudent for the Biden administration to suspend or put on hold this appointment of Mr. Ng,” Morse Tan, dean of Liberty University’s School of Law, told the DCNF. “An investigation should be engaged in to determine what is going on here because there could be U.S. interests that are at stake that could be damaged, and also advantage given to the Chinese Communist Party, who is well known to be engaged in espionage, intelligence gathering and other such things within the United States.”
East West Bank admitted Friday that Ng had served at an “executive-director level” in an “honorary position” at the China Overseas Exchange Association (COEA). Yet, Ng allegedly withdrew from the organization in 2014 due to “non-participation,” according to an East West Bank spokesman’s statements reported by American Banker on Friday.
The statements were made following a DCNF investigation which found that Ng served as “executive director” at COEA between 2013 and 2017, before the banker began a five-year position with the same title of “executive director” at the related China Overseas Friendship Association (COFA) in 2019.
Chinese intelligence experts, such as former CIA officer Nicholas Eftimiades, have identified both COEA and COFA as front groups for the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a CCP agency overseeing both influence and intelligence operations, according to multiple reports from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC).
“He should be immediately removed from APEC — at least until a proper FBI investigation clears Ng of any such involvement,” Eric Early, managing partner at the law firm of Early, Sullivan, Wright, Gizer & McRae, told the DCNF.
In response to the DCNF’s investigation, six Republican members of Congress led by Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Feb. 15, demanding for Ng to be investigated to determine the “extent of Mr. Ng’s knowledge of sensitive information.”
In addition to a suspension from APEC, Ng should also be compelled to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Tan told the DCNF.
“[FARA] is for U.S. individuals that are agents of a foreign principal — the foreign principal here being the Chinese Communist Party,” said Tan. “[Ng] was involved as the executive director for a couple of front organizations, which both merged into one, and had extensive interactions with the CCP — sometimes high-ranking CCP individuals.”
“In terms of whether or not [Ng] was an ‘agent’ there seems to be a broad understanding of what ‘agent’ means under [FARA] and includes all individuals acting in a political or quasi-political capacity,” Tan told the DCNF.
Based on the available evidence, Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, told the DCNF that it “appears that Mr. Ng may well qualify as an ‘agent of a foreign principal,’ which would require him to register and disclose his relationship under FARA.”
Likewise, Reed D. Rubinstein, Senior Counselor and Director of Oversight and Investigations at America First Legal, told the DCNF that “by virtue of his admitted service” in COEA, Ng “may well have had an obligation to register under FARA.”
“Obviously, there are facts we don’t know about what his role really may have been, and the allegations about the organization and its connections to the CCP,” said Rubinstein. “If those allegations are in fact, true, then, at a minimum, yes, there should have been a [FARA] registration.”
As chair of APEC’s Business Advisory Council, Ng is tasked with providing “recommendations to APEC leaders reflecting the perspectives of key APEC stakeholders,” the State Department announced. After the World Trade Organization, APEC is Beijing’s most valuable trade forum, accounting for a reported 70% of all China’s trade, according to China Briefing, an online publication concerning business in China.
“To me, this is the tip of an iceberg that is very, very deep that encompasses corporate leaders, academic leaders and politicians,” Rubinstein added.
However, several Democratic members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPC) led by California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu came out in Ng’s defense on Friday, characterizing Republican lawmakers’ calls to investigate the embattled banker as “profiling,” according to a joint press release from CAPAC.
Yet, Tan, who identified himself as the first Asian-American ambassador-at-large in U.S. history, told the DCNF that “legitimate concerns” of “espionage or actions of a foreign agent” should not be dismissed even if people are “crying racism.”
Despite Ng’s membership in an alleged UFWD front group, it will likely require a formal investigation to determine whether or not he’s actually violated TEA, experts said.
Tan said that 18 U.S. Code Section 793 — “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” — is the modern form of TEA which was passed in 1917.
Rubinstein told the DCNF that not enough was known to say whether or not the “statutory trip wires” of TEA had been crossed, “I don’t think we know enough to be able to say one way or the other.”
But, if it is shown that Ng passed “information onto our nation’s enemy” then “he may very well have violated The Espionage Act,” Early said.
“If the FBI acts, as it immediately should, on the request of the Congress members who sent the letter, it may very well uncover information sufficient to find TEA violations,” said Early.
Although it remains unclear to which level of classified information, if any, Ng might have access as chair of APEC’s Business Advisory Council, Tan said that if the U.S. government ultimately decides to prosecute the banker, such a case would have to prove that Ng obtained sensitive information concerning national defense with the intent or reason to believe the information would be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, like China.
In the event that such an investigation occurs, prosecutors might therefore seek to establish that Ng had given “advantage” to China, Tan said, as that element of 18 U.S. Code Section 793 might be the easiest to satisfy.
However, the U.S. government owes the American public an explanation given that an individual with ties to alleged CCP intel front groups was appointed to a senior government position in the first place, experts told the DCNF.
“Why would an administration claiming the mantle of the most ethical and transparent in history, and promising to restore norms, even consider someone to represent the United States in such a role who has these kinds of ties to a hostile foreign regime?” Chamberlain said.
These calls were echoed by Republican lawmakers.
“I want to know if this was flagged while Mr. Ng was vetted for this position, and if the Biden Administration knew about his ties to the CCP, why they allowed his appointment to move forward,” Florida Republican Rep. Mike Waltz told the DCNF.
“We know the CCP has an even greater espionage campaign than the Soviet Union ever had in our country, yet this administration refuses to take the threat of China seriously,” Waltz said.
Rubinstein told the DCNF that Ng’s ties “should have been picked up” during the government’s vetting process.
“You would hope that the government would have the kind of base level of competence necessary to flag those things,” said Rubinstein, while noting that the DCNF was able to discover Ng’s CCP ties.
Tan said that, during his own vetting process, the U.S. government interviewed him for over seven hours prior to government service.
“There were extensive questions about whether or not I was tied to any foreign government — or even foreign nationals for that matter — and whether I had been involved in any organizations that would be of concern to the U.S. government,” Tan told the DCNF.
The U.S. government will still owe the American public an explanation if it turns out that Ng’s CCP ties were identified, but ignored, during his vetting process, experts told the DCNF.
“There needs to be an explanation as to how that relationship either was missed during the vet or why it was apparently passed over without a more robust second level sort of investigation,” Rubinstein said.
“One would like to think that administrations appoint individuals because of their knowledge and skills, and not because they wrote a big check, but reality is what it is,” Rubinstein said, referring to the fact that Ng donated $100,000 to the Biden Victory Fund and $35,500 to the Democratic National Committee in 2020, according to campaign finance records.
“These types of arrangements are precisely why D.C. has earned its moniker as ‘The Swamp’ and a major reason behind the American public’s trust in government falling faster than a balloon shot by an F-16,” Chamberlain said.
APEC, East West Bank, Ng and the White House did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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