US says missing GOP whistleblower is arms trafficker, Chinese agent

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Justice Department on Monday unsealed charges against the co-director of a Maryland think tank, alleging he acted as an illegal arms broker and unregistered agent for the Beijing government while also seeking to help China obtain Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Gal Luft, a dual U.S. and Israeli citizen, is accused of recruiting and paying a former high-ranking U.S. government official – and adviser to then President-elect Donald Trump – on behalf of principals based in China in 2016 without registering in the U.S. as a foreign agent as federal law requires.

The 57-year-old fugitive has become a key figure in Republican-led corruption investigations into President Joe Biden, accusing him, his son Hunter Biden and other family members of having improper financial arrangements with the China-controlled energy company CEFC. The White House and Biden family representatives have issued broad denials of such claims of corruption as being false and without merit.

The eight-count indictment unsealed Monday charges Luft with offenses related to willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, arms trafficking, Iranian sanctions violations and making false statements to federal agents. He was arrested on Feb. 17 in Cyprus based on U.S. charges but subsequently fled after being released on bail while extradition proceedings were pending and remains a fugitive, the Justice Department said in a news release late Monday announcing his indictment.

Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Luft "engaged in multiple, serious criminal schemes."

"He subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States to seek to promote Chinese policies by acting through a former high-ranking U.S. Government official; he acted as a broker in deals for dangerous weapons and Iranian oil; and he told multiple lies about his crimes to law enforcement," Williams said in the Justice Department statement. "As the charges unsealed today reflect, our Office will continue to work vigorously with our law enforcement partners to detect and hold accountable those who surreptitiously attempt to perpetrate malign foreign influence campaigns here in the United States.”

Claims of being an anti-Biden whistleblower

A longtime energy security analyst who splits his time between Maryland and Israel, Luft has accused Biden family members of bribery and of having received payments from individuals with ties to Chinese military intelligence or energy firms.

Luft, whose Institute for the Analysis of Global Security focuses on energy security, has denied wrongdoing in tweets in which he also claimed the Justice Department case against him is politically motivated.

Sen. Ron Johnson, one of several prominent Republicans to tout Luft as a whistleblower witness, also suggested in a July 9 tweet that the Justice Department case against Luft is connected to his alleged interest in exposing Biden family corruption.

"Is DOJ trying to silence Dr. Gal Luft from publicly exposing Biden family corruption?" asked Johnson, R-Wis., the top Republican on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "The American people deserve the truth and Dr. Luft must have the chance to testify before Congress."

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, also has been heavily touting Luft as a potential breakthrough witness with incriminating evidence of corruption against the Bidens. But so far, Comer hasn't revealed specifics.

In May, Comer was forced to acknowledge that the House committee had lost track of its whistleblower. And three days before the criminal charges were unsealed, Comer told the conservative Newsmax media outfit that Luft was “a very credible witness on Biden family corruption (who) provided incriminating evidence to six officials from the FBI and the DOJ in a meeting in Brussels in March 2019.”

'Multiple, serious criminal schemes'

According to the indictment, Luft conspired with others in an effort to act within the United States to advance China's interests without registering as foreign agents.

As part of this scheme, in part using his role as co-director of the nonprofit think tank, Luft "agreed to covertly recruit and pay, on behalf of principals based in China," a former high-ranking U.S. government official. Those efforts began in 2016 while the former official was an adviser to Trump and continued after Trump was in the White House, to publicly support pro-China policies without telling the Justice Department about their hidden pro-China agenda, the indictment said.

The Trump adviser is identified only as Individual-1 in the filing. Luft then suggested he was maneuvering to get the Trump adviser into a good political position to help China. "We do not want to spill all the beans yet, just enough to let ‘people’ know he (i.e., Individual-1) is in the corridor of power to be," Luft allegedly said. He also said "there can be a supremely unique opportunity for China” given their clandestine roles in helping promote pro-Beijing policies in the U.S.

Luft also acted as a broker or middleman to find both buyers and sellers of certain weapons and other materials, without a license to do so as required under U.S. law, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. That included working to broker a deal for Chinese companies to sell certain weapons to Libya, including anti-tank launchers, grenade launchers, and mortar rounds, which Luft and his associates referred to in coded language as “toys,” according to the Justice Department.

The indictment also alleges that Luft worked to broker deals for certain weapons to be sold to the United Arab Emirates, including aerial bombs and rockets, and for certain weapons to be sold by a Chinese company to Kenya, including unmanned aerial "strike" vehicles or drones.

At one point, during a voluntary interview with U.S. law enforcement in which he was asked questions about his involvement in arms trafficking, Luft "made multiple false statements, including that he had not sought to engage in or profit from arms deals."

Justice Department officials also said Luft conspired with others and attempted to broker deals for Iranian oil, directing an associate to refer to it as “Brazilian” oil in an effort to conceal the activity in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Luft also lied about that, the indictment said, making multiple false statements, "including that he had tried to prevent oil deals with Iran and had not been present during meetings with the Chinese energy company and Iranians."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US charges fugitive energy analyst with being agent of China, arms trafficker