U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona found probable cause yesterday to warrant the filing of a criminal case against alleged Hong Kong fugitive and property mogul Wei Zeng.
As this developed, known Guam immigration lawyer Nelson Xu, of the Baumann, Kondas and Xu LLC law firm, has joined attorney Bruce Berline as counsel for the 51-year-old Zeng, also known as Zhiquian Liu. Berline also told the court yesterday that a Hong Kong lawyer is arriving to meet Zeng.
At the preliminary hearing yesterday, Manglona ruled that the U.S. government has met the burden of proving that Zeng had committed the crime of making a false statement to a federal agency. Manglona cited each evidence that the U.S. government presented to support the finding of probable of cause.
Zeng will be arraigned on Feb. 10 at 9am.
The complaint alleges that Zeng knowingly made a materially false statement to U.S. Customs and Border Protection by declaring on his form I-736 that he has not previously applied for a U.S. immigrant or non-immigrant visa.
USCBP Form I-736 is a document that certain foreign-born, non-immigrant, non-visa holders visiting Guam or the CNMI must complete before entry.
At the hearing, assistant U.S. attorney Ross Naughton called to the witness stand Michael D. Lansangan, special agent with Homeland Security Investigations of the Department of Homeland Security. Lansangan confirmed with the court that there is now an extradition request for Zeng.
Naughton pointed out that question No. 8 in the Form I-736 reads, “Have you applied for an immigrant or non-immigrant U.S. visa before?”, which Zeng marked “No.”
Zeng’s fingerprints in the computerized database records show that he has previously applied for and has been granted both immigrant and non-immigrant U.S. visa applications, Naughton said.
“It is clear a false statement was made,” he added.
He noted that the Interpol’s notice put Zeng on its watchlist. “That’s a pretty good motive from being detected,” Naughton said, referring to Zeng’s use of a different identity on his passport.
Berline argued that the U.S. government failed to present evidence of who filled up and signed the I-736 form. He cited, among other things, that there was no testimony as to who gave the I-736 form.
“We heard from the agent that there’s nothing wrong with that passport,” he said.
Two Chinese male nationals watched the hearing yesterday. One told Saipan Tribune that he is the defendant’s relative and that he came here from China on Wednesday.
The man said the defendant is “a good person.”
A separate hearing will be held on Feb. 18 on the U.S. government’s request to extradite Zeng.
Berline said he and attorney Xu will also represent Zeng in that matter.
This will be the first high-profile extradition between the U.S. and Hong Kong governments since Washington’s failed bid to secure the return of former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013.
Zeng was arrested on Jan. 16 when he reportedly used a different identity to try to enter Saipan from Shanghai, China. He sought admission using the name Zhi Qian Liu.
On July 4, 2011, the Hong Kong District Court issued a warrant for Zeng’s arrest on the basis of charges that he bribed a bank official in Hong Kong with a bag filled with HK $2.3 million, the equivalent of $300,000 in October 2010. The cash was allegedly a reward for the bank official’s help in a multi-million Hong Kong dollar loan extension application and for giving favorable credit information relating to Zeng’s two companies.