A Kidnapping Case in US Leaves Long Trail to China

IN an unusual abduction case, federal agents have arrested two mainland Chinese men in Chicago after they allegedly kidnapped a mainland Chinese businessman and tried to force him onto a flight back to China.

The case is controversial because the men allegedly claimed to be acting for China's government in abducting the businessman, Zhou Xingping, who owes about $1 million in unpaid loans to state-owned Chinese banks, federal authorities say. Mr. Zhou says the men told him they were part of a group of about 20 people on a mission in the US to apprehend jingji fan, or economic criminals from China, the authorities say. Chinese diplomats in Chicago denied any government involvement in the case.

More broadly, the incident shows a lack of legal cooperation between China and the United States even as trade and other economic ties grow between the two countries.

Following an eight-month-long federal investigation, the two men, brothers John and Carl Zhang, were arrested last month at their Chicago-area apartment. They were indicted June 24 on charges of extortion and conspiracy to kidnap. Carl Zhang's wife, Mary Wang, is wanted on similar charges in connection with the case. But Ms. Wang returned to China and is unlikely to be sent back to the US because the countries share no extradition treaty.

``Our latest information is that she [Wang] is back in China,'' says prosecutor Saul Brenner, the assistant US attorney here.

As the case is described by US officials, in early 1993, Zhou, chairman of a silk clothing company in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, hired Wang to represent his business in the US. A drop in the market price of silk garments caused losses for the company, however, forcing Zhou to default on his state bank loans.

IN September 1993, Zhou traveled to Chicago, met with Wang to explore business ventures, and later went on to Los Angeles with plans to set up a branch office for his firm.

But the Zhang brothers, aided by Wang, followed Zhou, abducting him at gunpoint on Oct. 13 in Rosemont, Calif. For the next two days, the Zhangs and another Chinese man held Zhou in hotel rooms, where they handcuffed, gagged, and threatened to kill him unless he revealed where the Chinese loan money was.

On Oct. 15, the men drove Zhou to Los Angeles airport and attempted to force him onto a China Eastern Airlines flight bound for Beijing. When Zhou screamed for help at a security check point, one of the Zhangs said Zhou was an unwell brother and urged airport personnel to let them pass. Seconds later, however, the alleged abductors fled.

The Zhang brothers have been taken to Los Angeles for prosecution and may stand trial in the fall, Mr. Brenner says.

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