A Chinese woman has been charged in the U.S. with attempting to gain unlawful access to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, according to court documents.
Zhang Yujing, 32, showed two People's Republic of China passports as identification when questioned by Secret Service personnel at a security checkpoint outside the club, telling the officer that she was there to use the pool.
Later, when questioned by another Secret Service officer, she said she was due to attend a "United Nations Friendship Event," though further inquiries revealed that there was no such event scheduled to take place at Mar-a-Lago, an affidavit filed by federal investigators for the Southern District Court of Florida said.
"Thus Zhang could not have any legitimate documentation authorizing her entry to Mar-a-Lago for such a purpose," the court document cited Agent Samuel Ivanovich as saying. After being removed from the resort and questioned by agents, Zhang became "verbally aggressive with agents," and was detained by them, it said.
During interviews, Zhang said she had only been in contact with a person known as "Charles" via the social media platform WeChat.
The name is possibly a reference to Charles Lee, described as the secretary-general of the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association (UNCFA) in online documents and newspaper articles.
A preliminary forensic examination of a thumb drive among Zhang's belongings showed that it contained malware, the court document said.
"No swimming apparel was found in Zhang's possession or on her person," it said.
Zhang has been charged with knowingly making false statements to a federal officer, and with having "knowingly entered and remained in a restricted building and grounds," according to the document.
The UNCFA website was unavailable on Wednesday, but cached versions of some of its pages dating from last month indicated that it has been involved with a number of "invitations" to Chinese nationals to visit events at Mar-a-Lago.
United Front Work Department
RFA was unable to verify independently whether the "Charles" mentioned in the affidavit was indeed Lee. However, the Miami Herald reported last week that one "Charles Lee, an event bundler and seller of access to Chinese clients looking for face time with major politicians" was a business associate of Cindy Yang, the recent subject of national security concerns among senior Democrats in Congress.
"Together Yang and Lee brought more than 20 guests to Mar-a-Lago in 2018, according to their posts on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook," the paper reported on March 29.
The UNCFA has connections with a department of the ruling Chinese Communist Party tasked with developing allies and influence outside its ranks, including overseas. The United Front Work Department has been linked to a number of reports on growing Chinese influence in liberal democracies.
An August 2018 report from the U.S. Economic and Security Review Commission said that the department "has an important foreign influence mission" via affiliated organizations that "conduct influence operations targeting foreign actors and states."
"It is precisely the nature of United Front work to seek influence through connections that are difficult to publicly prove," the report said.
A 2012 report on the website of China's Phoenix New Media gave a list of trips made by UNCFA officers, including those made by secretary-general Charles Lee.
"Secretary-general Charles Lee visited Mme. You Lantian, deputy minister of the United Front Work Department of the [ruling Chinese Communist Party] central committee on Nov. 24, 2011," the report said.
A cached copy of a page from the UNCFA website says part of its mission is to "unite all forces that can be united and safeguard the rights and interests of members and Chinese in the world."
Democrats in Congress last month called on the FBI to investigate Cindy Yang's activities, amid concerns that she could pose a national security threat.
A chain of massage parlors owned by Cindy Yang are "suspected of involvement in prostitution and human trafficking in which immigrant women are forced to serve as sex workers," according to a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and other heads of intelligence services dated March 15.
"Ms. Yang also reportedly created a business named GY US Investments that may be selling access to the President and members of his family to clients from China," said the letter, which was signed by Mark R. Warner, Adam B. Schiff, Dianne Feinstein and Jerry Nadler of both House and Senate judicial and intelligence committees.
"On Ms. Yang's website, which has since been taken down, her company offered clients 'the opportunity to interact with the President, the [American] Minister of Commerce, and other political figures' and also offered to arrange 'White House and Capitol Hill dinners,'" the letter said.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.