A US State Department employee with access to sensitive information, was accused of failing to report contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with gifts in exchange of diplomatic and economic information, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Candace Claiborne, 60, was charged in a Washington federal court with obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Claiborne appeared before a magistrate judge with her lawyer, David Bos, but both declined to speak to reporters. Claiborne will remain confined to house arrest until an 18 April preliminary hearing.
A complaint says Claiborne was given tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and wire transfers by Chinese agents beginning in 2011, in exchange of information about US economic policy in relation to China and other diplomatic matters.
Claiborne and a co-conspirator, not identified in court papers, received items such as beads, a sewing machine, slippers cash, tuition payments to a fashion school in China and an all-expenses paid vacation to Thailand, prosecutors allege.
Mark Toner, State Department SpokespersonWhen a public servant is suspected of potential misconduct or federal crimes that violate the public trust, we vigorously investigate such claims
The charges against Claiborne were announced just ahead of a 6-7 April meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two largest economies over North Korea, the South China Sea, Taiwan and trade. Trump was critical of China during the 2016 presidential campaign.
US officials have accused China of cyber hacking of US government agencies and American companies in recent years.
According to US Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord, Claiborne “allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits”
Claiborne has worked at the State Department since 1999, during which she served in a number of overseas post, including embassies and consulates in Iraq, Sudan and China.
Claiborne was monitored under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant, or FISA warrant, prosecutors said.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice and five years in prison for making false statements to the FBI.
Join The Quint on WhatsApp. Type “JOIN” and send to 9910181818