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02/05/98- Updated 01:59 PM ET

Trie pleads innocent to finance charges

WASHINGTON - Declaring through his lawyer he won't be made the villain of the campaign fund-raising controversy, Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie pleaded innocent Thursday to charges he funneled illegal donations to the Democratic Party.

Trie, who fled to China last year as Congress began investigating his role in fund raising for President Clinton's re-election effort, entered the plea to the 15-count indictment that was returned last week.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman set Oct. 7 for the trial.

Outside the courthouse, defense lawyer Reid Weingarten said Trie is a victim of efforts by congressional investigators to portray him as an agent of a supposed Chinese government attempt to influence the 1996 presidential election.

"He has never been a fugitive from justice. He has never served as a spy for a foreign country. He never intended to corrupt the American political system," Weingarten told reporters.

"Any effort to make him the heavy in this political scandal will fall of its own weight," Weingarten added. "This is, in fact, a political scandal that's being shoehorned in the criminal justice system. It has no place being there."

Asked by court clerk Barbara Montgomery how he intended to plead, Trie said, "not guilty." He wore the same tweed jacket and electric blue and black tie that he wore at a bail hearing earlier on Tuesday.

Trie flew to Washington this week Weingarten, who had negotiated the terms of his surrender with Justice Department prosecutors. After turning himself in to FBI agents, Trie was released on a $200,000 personal recognizance bond.

Weingarten, who met Trie in Paris, negotiated the bond arrangement as a condition for his surrender to the Justice Department, said a lawyer familiar with the case. The source cautioned that Trie's return is not to be taken as a sign that he is seeking a deal with prosecutors. There are no plea negotiations, said the source.

Weingarten issued a statement Tuesday night saying that Trie had returned voluntarily to fight the charges and put to rest any notion that he was a fugitive or a spy for China.

The former Little Roc restaurateur is accused of conspiring with business associate Yuan Pei "Antonio" Pan to buy influence with unnamed high government officials by contributing to the Democratic Party through "straw donors" who were reimbursed with cash.

Justice Department prosecutor Thomas McNamara said the government was attempting to locate Pan.

Trie, 49, is also accused of conspiring to obstruct Senate and Justice Department investigations by asking unnamed individuals to destroy or withhold subpoenaed documents.

Trie raised or donated $662,000 to the Democratic National Committee that was returned by the party because the money came from questionable sources. He also delivered $640,000 to Clinton's legal defense fund, which was later returned.

Senate investigators traced more than $1 million in wire transfers from Asia to bank accounts that Trie controlled in this country with Ng Lap Seng, a Macao property developer who was a business partner.

Trie had been living in Macao before returning to this country, said law enforcement officials. Before that he had spent many months in China.

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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