WASHINGTON - Attorney General Janet Reno asked Chinese Justice Minister Xiao Yang for help Monday with her campaign finance investigation, which is looking at whether there were illegal contributions from China.
Justice Department officials refused to characterize what response they got from Xiao on the campaign finance question or any of the wide range of law enforcement issues raised.
"Today's meeting was a productive first step that we expect to lead to improved mutual cooperation in the pursuit of justice," Reno said in a statement later. They agreed to meet again at a time and place to be determined.
The campaign finance probe was raised in Reno's first face-to-face session with Xiao in her office. She was accompanied by deputy assistant attorneys general Mark Richard, who is supervising that probe, and Frances Fragos-Townsend, who supervises international criminal division work.
Reno said she "took the opportunity to make it very clear to Minister Xiao that we are seeking the full cooperation of the Chinese government with the investigation being conducted by our campaign finance task force."
Although there is no extradition or mutual law enforcement assistance treaty between the United States and China, a senior Justice official said, "That would not prevent them from sending us people or documents voluntarily."
At least one figure in the investigation, Little Rock restaurateur and Democratic fund-raiser Charlie Trie, has declined to answer investigators' questions and gone to China. The FBI warned some congressional candidates they might receive contributions that originated in China.
Reno said they discussed implementation of agreements made during Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit here with President Clinton two weeks ago, including the opening of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office in Beijing. "This is a very positive development that will enable American law enforcement to work more closely with Chinese officials to help fight the flow of overseas drugs into the United States." Reno said.
"It is also our hope that improved law enforcement cooperation will lead to the opening of an FBI office in Beijing in the future," she added. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh joined one of the meetings with Xiao, as did Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meissner. The meetings lasted most of the afternoon.
"One important element which we look forward to is the opening of reciprocal law enforcement offices in each nation's capital," Reno said.
Reno said other topics included "mechanisms for improving cooperation on law enforcement matters like environmental issues and alien smuggling."
A Justice official, requesting anonymity, said the two groups exchanged the names of the proper officials in each country to contact on such issues as environmental crime or control of chlorofluorocarbon emissions and immigration.
The Chinese ate lunch with Reno in her private dining room. Some of them stopped across the street at the FBI for a brief visit.
By The Associated Press
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