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02/03/98- Updated 05:42 PM ET

Indicted DNC money man in custody

WASHINGTON - In a surprise breakthrough in the campaign finance scandal, the FBI took Charlie Trie, a defendant who was thought to have fled to China, into custody Tuesday, a spokesman said.

It was learned that Trie arrived at Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of the capital Tuesday afternoon. He was due to appear in court in Alexandria, Va.

It could not immediately be learned whether Trie had returned to this country voluntarily or was apprehended abroad and brought back in custody.

A Democratic fund-raiser and longtime friend of President Clinton, Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie and an associate were charged last Thursday with giving and arranging illegal political contributions to the Democratic National Committee to buy access to Clinton and other top officials.

The long-anticipated first indictment from the Justice Department's campaign finance task force also charged Trie, a former Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur, with obstructing justice by ordering an employee to destroy documents subpoenaed last year by a federal grand jury and by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The 15-count indictment against Trie, 49, and his business associate, Yuan Pei "Antonio" Pan, 50, was released Thursday after officials muffed an effort to keep it sealed because both defendants were believed to be out of the country.

Trie, born in Taiwan and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was thought to be in China. Reno had asked the Chinese justice minister for cooperation in the campaign finance investigation, but no help had been

The grand jury charged that Trie and Pan funneled money to the Democratic National Committee from people whom they secretly reimbursed in cash.

In that conspiracy count, the indictment said that in an effort to promote their business interests here and abroad, Trie and Pan "purchased access to high-level government officials in the United States by contributing and soliciting contributions to the Democratic National Committee."

The grand jury detailed the success of this plan: Between June 22, 1994, and Aug. 18, 1996, Trie attended 10 dinners, lunches or coffees with Clinton, including four inside the White House. He also attended four events with Vice President Al Gore, one of which was in the White House. And he arranged three White House tours with his business associates and a photo opportunity with Clinton.

One of Trie's guests at a White House coffee with Clinton last year was Wang Jun, head of a Chinese government arms company called Poly Technologies, White House records have shown previously.

Trie's attorney, Reid Weingarten, was out of his office and did not respond to requests for comment on Trie's surrender Tuesday.

Previously, Weingarten has said money disbursed from U.S. bank accounts of Trie's affiliated companies was for legitimate business expenses like travel, rent and staff salaries. Political donations that Trie made were legal because they were made with his own money. Weingarten said.

Pan, a Taiwanese national who formerly worked for the Indonesia-based Lippo group, was an executive of two Trie-owned enterprises. The grand jury charged that money was shipped to Trie in this country from Asian accounts of one of these two companies and of San Kin Yip International Trading Co., owned by a Macau real estate mogul and Trie's associate, Np Lap Seng. All three companies shared office space in the Watergate apartment building here.

Between his personal contributions and the money he solicited, Trie was credited with bringing more than $600,000 to the DNC, the Justice Department said. The grand jury said much of it came from foreign sources or was obtained through "straw" or "conduit" contributions.

The fund raising earned Trie a position as a trustee of the Democratic Party, which had a policy against accepting foreign or conduit contributions. Trustees got benefits and privileges, including access to White House officials and tours, invitations to White House events, help from the DNC and membership on DNC committees.

The grand jury charged that Trie defrauded the DNC because he would not have become a trustee if he had reported that much of the funding was illegal.

Trie and Pan also were charged with conspiring to defraud the U.S. government by impeding the Federal Election Commission from making accurate public reports of the amounts and sources of political contributions to federal candidates and their political committees.

The Justice Department's criminal investigation of campaign finance has been operating in Washington and Los Angeles with 120 lawyers and agents. Reno has declined repeated Republican requests to have an independent counsel take over the probe.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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