Former Chinese Airline Manager and US Citizen Pleads Guilty to Acting as Chinese Agent

April 19, 2019 Updated: April 21, 2019

Lin Ying, a former manager at the Chinese state-owned airline Air China, pleaded guilty in a federal court in New York City on April 17 to acting as an agent of the Chinese regime when she smuggled luggage onboard flights for several Chinese military officers.

For acting as a foreign agent without informing U.S. authorities, she faces up to 10 years in prison, according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

While working for Air China at airports in the New York and New Jersey area, Lin encouraged her fellow employees to give their primary loyalty to China and assist the military officers.

Lin Pleads Guilty

Lin, 48, who was born in China, became a U.S. citizen by naturalization. She owns several residences in the New York area.

Lin had worked for Air China for 14 years in its U.S. operations. According to court documents, Lin worked as a counter manager at the John F. Kennedy International airport from 2002 to 2015, and then was promoted to station manager at the Newark Liberty International airport until April 2016.

Lin pleaded guilty at a federal court in Brooklyn on April 17 to shipping luggage from New York to Beijing for military officers assigned to China’s permanent mission to the United Nations. She placed the luggage onto Air China flights as “unaccompanied baggage” or checked them in under the names of other passengers flying on those flights.

As the Chinese military officers did not travel on those flights, Lin’s actions violated federal Transportation Security Administration regulations.

“I acted at the direction of the officials and my employer, Air China,” Lin told U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly at court on April 17. “I did not notify the attorney general of the United States.”

The court did not disclose what was inside the luggage that Lin helped to ship. But in return for her work, Lin received benefits from the Chinese UN Mission and the Chinese consulate in New York City, according to court documents, including free work on interior decorating at her two Queens homes, and getting to make tax-exempt purchases of Apple electronic products, watches, cigarettes, and liqueurs. The interior work was done by Chinese construction workers who received visas to work only on Chinese government facilities in the United States.

Lin also was involved in a high-profile UN corruption case, for which she was first arrested in August 2015 and charged by U.S. prosecutors with structuring bank deposits to avoid transaction reporting requirements, according to a Reuters report. The case was an investigation of how Macau real estate tycoon Ng Lap Seng bribed U.N. diplomats in exchange for support for his construction plans. Ng was convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment in May 2018.

In that case, Lin was also charged with obstruction of justice for helping Qin Fei, a Chinese national and suspected associate of Ng, board a flight on Oct. 28, 2015, to China, after Qin was suspected of being a Chinese agent by U.S. authorities.

On April 17, the court freed her from these and other related charges in the Ng case as part of her plea deal.

Agent of Chinese Government

Lin encouraged other Air China employees to assist the Chinese military officers, according to the DOJ press release, “instructing those employees that because the Air Carrier was a PRC [People’s Republic of China] company, their primary loyalty should be to the PRC.”

“This case is a stark example of the Chinese government using the employees of Chinese companies doing business here to engage in illegal activity,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said in the press release. “Covertly doing the Chinese military’s bidding on U.S. soil is a crime, and Lin and the Chinese military took advantage of a commercial enterprise to evade legitimate U.S. government oversight.”

In court, Lin agreed to forfeit $170,000 as part of her guilty plea.

Lin’s sentencing has been scheduled for September 10.

Cai Rong contributed to this report.

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