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TODAY

01/28/98- Updated 02:27 AM ET

Trie indictment expected in probe

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is preparing to seek an indictment soon against Charlie Trie, a central figure in the campaign fund-raising scandal that has rocked the Democratic Party and the Clinton White House.

According to senior law enforcement officials, prosecutors may ask a Washington-based grand jury to return the indictment this week. The charges under consideration include obstruction of justice, election law violations and mail fraud, the officials say.

The indictment would be the first major case brought by the special Justice Department task force established by Attorney General Janet Reno after the fund-raising scandal exploded in late 1996.

The law enforcement officials say Trie's indictment has been anticipated for weeks. Some within the Justice Department thought an indictment would be announced last Friday. However, senior department officials decided to put off the matter until this week or perhaps later, the officials say.

The development also comes at a bad time for President Clinton, who's been battered by allegations of sexual misconduct. Trie is a longtime friend and supporter.

Trie has emerged as a central figure in criminal and congressional investigations into whether the Chinese government or other foreign interests made illegal donations to the Democratic Party. Investigators also are exploring whether Trie and others participated in a scheme to reimburse donors to the Democratic Party. While investigators have evidence of Trie's ties to Chinese officials, one law enforcement official says the charges are not expected to link his fund-raising to China.

The Justice Department would like to question Trie, a naturalized American from Taiwan, about his dealings with China. However, he left the United States after his name emerged in the fund-raising scandal. He is believed to be living in Beijing.

Reid Weingarten, his Washington lawyer, declined to comment.

Trie was a major fund-raiser for the Democratic Party in the 1996 election cycle and for President Clinton's legal defense fund. He contributed or raised $645,000 for the Democratic National Committee. Separately, he delivered more than $600,000 in contributions to Clinton's defense fund. In both cases, the funds were returned because of concerns about the source of the money.

Trie is an international business consultant. He has known Clinton for more than 20 years, dating back to their days in Arkansas when Trie operated a restaurant in Little Rock.

Both Justice Department and congressional investigators have been exploring Trie's ties to two men, Macao developer Ng Lap Seng, who is a partner of Trie's, and a political operative named Antonio Pan. Neither could be reached for comment.

Officials say investigators have been exploring whether Trie funneled money into the Democratic Party on behalf of Ng. It is illegal for most foreigners to make contributions to federal and state campaigns, or for someone to mask donations by others. Ng, identified in press reports as an adviser to the Chinese government, wired at least $470,000 into a Washington bank account controlled by Trie during a 10-month period in 1996, according to congressional investigators.

Ng routed the money through the Bank of China's offices in Macao and Hong Kong to Trie's account at the Riggs National Bank here.

Both Justice and congressional investigators are exploring whether Pan used some of the money wired to Trie to reimburse contributors in the Asian-American community. Pan was an associate of not only Trie but also John Huang, the former Commerce Department official and Democratic fund-raiser who has been at the heart of the scandal.

By Edward T. Pound, USA TODAY




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