A Brooklyn judge on Thursday formally dismissed charges against NYPD Officer Baimadajie Angwang, granting prosecutors’ request last week to throw out the case upon the discovery of new information.
It ended a two-year ordeal for Angwang, a U.S. Army reservist and naturalized U.S. citizen born in Tibet, who spent about six months in custody before being released on a $2 million bond. He had been accused of spying on expatriate Tibetans in his Queens precinct on behalf of officials at the Chinese Consulate in the city.
Outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, Angwang, wearing a pin of the American flag on his lapel, thanked his family and his supporters, including those on the city’s police force and the U.S. Marine Corps, where he formerly served.
During a brief court appearance, prosecutors said they were dropping charges “in the interest of justice.” U.S. District Judge Eric Komitee tried to prompt prosecutors to share what they could about their change of mind, but they declined to reveal what new information led them to do so.
“The decision was based on all the evidence and information developed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Haggans told the judge, adding that some of the information was too sensitive in nature to discuss in open court. WABC reported that federal prosecutors told the judge the evidence that prompted them to move for the dismissal remains “classified.”
In Angwang’s case, the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn had claimed that he began working as an agent for China in 2018 and was secretly supplying information on Tibetans pushing for their homeland’s independence from the communist government. It said he had worked to locate potential intelligence sources and identify potential threats to Chinese interests.
Given he was previously granted secret-level security clearance by the Department of Defense, Angwang was described as the “definition of an insider threat” by FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office William F. Sweeney at the time of the initial indictment. Angwang was released on $2 million bond after six months in custody.
The government case partly relied on dozens of intercepted phone conversations between Angwang and a consulate official — someone whom Angwang called “big brother” and “boss” — about how to identify dissenters in the independence movement, assess potential intelligence sources and introduce Chinese consular officials to senior NYPD officials.
In court filings, Angwang’s attorney said any discussions with the Chinese Consulate were meant to curry favor so that he could obtain a visa to visit relatives in Tibet.
Angwang initially traveled to the United States on a cultural exchange visa at age 17. He overstayed a second visa and eventually sought asylum in the United States, alleging that he had been arrested and tortured in China partly because of his Tibetan ethnicity.
After gaining asylum, Angwang became a Marine and served in Afghanistan before being honorably discharged, according to court papers filed by his attorney. Angwang went on to join the Army Reserve and the NYPD, earning a “Cop of the Month” award at his precinct in September 2018, according to the court filing.
U.S. authorities continue to hunt for China’s operatives.
Last fall, federal authorities in New York charged seven people, including five in China, with what they said was a campaign of harassment against a Chinese national and his family living in the U.S. to force him to return home.
The U.S. attorney’s office alleged that the threats and harassment continued for years and were part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” characterized by the FBI as an illegal global effort by China to locate and repatriate alleged fugitives who flee to foreign countries.
In another case, two suspected Chinese intelligence officers were charged with attempting to obstruct a U.S. criminal investigation of Chinese tech giant Huawei by offering bribes to someone they thought could provide inside information.
Tibet has been an especially sensitive issue for communist China.
China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and China’s ruling Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history and that Beijing wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.