September 6, 2016 / 6:15 PM / 3 years ago

Ex-Air China employee pleads not guilty to U.S. smuggling charge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Air China Ltd employee linked to defendants in a U.N. bribery case pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to U.S. charges that she helped military personnel at China’s mission to the United Nations smuggle packages out of the United States.

Former Air China employee Ying Lin exits the building after a pretrial hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. on June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Nate Raymond

Ying Lin, whom prosecutors said also helped a Chinese national under investigation by the FBI flee the United States last year, entered her plea through her lawyer in Brooklyn federal court to charges including smuggling and obstruction of justice.

“The charges against her are baseless,” Deborah Colson, Lin’s lawyer, told reporters. “She really looks forward to fighting this and having her day in court.”

Prosecutors said Lin, a U.S. citizen, smuggled items onto Air China flights at the direction of Chinese military officers at its U.N. mission and others while working as a counter agent at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday criticized the Lin case. It said U.S. accusations concerning diplomatic personnel “have ulterior motives.”

The charges, announced on Aug. 31, are the latest against Lin, who most recently was Air China’s station chief at Newark Liberty International Airport. She was initially arrested in August 2015 and charged for structuring bank deposits to avoid transaction reporting requirements.

Lin was arrested in a case brought by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn just before prosecutors in Manhattan charged Macau real estate mogul Ng Lap Seng, whom they said bribed a U.N. diplomat.

Both Lin, 46, and Ng, 68, have been linked in court and other records to Qin Fei, a Chinese national who Ng has said was a consultant to his company, Sun Kian Ip Group.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents last year interrogated Ng about Qin, asking if he was connected to foreign intelligence, according to court records.

They also asked about a $10 million Long Island mansion owned by Qin. Property records list Lin as an agent for the mansion.

An indictment said Lin helped a Chinese national matching Qin’s description flee, arranging for his flight to Beijing in October 2015. Qin has not been charged. His lawyer has not responded to requests for comment.

Ng and his assistant, Jeff Yin, are scheduled to go on trial in January on charges that they bribed former U.N. Assembly President John Ashe to support a conference center in Macau that Sun Kian group would develop.

Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, died in June awaiting trial. Ng and Yin have pleaded not guilty.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Grant McCool

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