Ex-Air China employee wins dismissal of U.S. smuggling charge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Air China Ltd employee linked to a high-profile U.N. corruption case has won dismissal of a U.S. charge that she helped Chinese military personnel smuggle packages out of the United States, though she still faces other charges.

U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry in Brooklyn ruled on Wednesday that the charge against Ying Lin had to be dismissed because prosecutors only accused her of helping transport unaccompanied bags, without identifying any illegal items inside them.

“Baggage is not illegal for export per se, and the Government has not pointed to a United States law or regulation that prohibits ‘unaccompanied baggage,’” Irizarry wrote.

However, the judge refused to dismiss charges that Lin obstructed justice by helping a Chinese national under scrutiny from the Federal Bureau of Investigation flee the United States in 2015.

Lin has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Prosecutors said at a hearing on Thursday that they are considering whether to appeal Irizarry’s order, court records show.

Lin, a U.S. citizen who has worked as Air China’s station chief at Newark Liberty International Airport, was first arrested in August 2015 and charged by prosecutors in Brooklyn with structuring bank deposits to avoid transaction reporting requirements. The smuggling and obstruction charges were added a year later.

Lin’s arrest came shortly before prosecutors in Manhattan charged Macau real estate mogul Ng Lap Seng with bribing U.N. diplomats. Ng was convicted in July.

Both Lin and Ng, 69, have been linked in court and other records to Qin Fei, a Chinese national who has been suspected by U.S. authorities of being a Chinese agent. Ng has said Qin was a consultant to his company, Sun Kian Ip Group.

FBI agents in 2015 interrogated Ng about Qin, asking if he was connected to foreign intelligence, according to court records. Qin has not been charged with any crime.

Prosecutors have said that the Chinese national whom Lin is accused of helping to flee the United States owned a mansion on Long Island, where he employed Lin as a property manager. That description matches Qin.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis