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Ex-bankers plead not guilty
(Shenzhen Daily/Agencies)
Updated: 2006-02-13 13:53

Two former Bank of China managers and their wives pleaded not guilty in Las Vegas, the United States on Friday to charges they embezzled US$485 million from a branch in Kaiping, western Guangdong, and tried to launder the money in Hong Kong and North America.

Through interpreters and their lawyers, former bankers Xu Guojun, 47, and Xu Chaofan, 40, and their wives, Yu Yingyi, 43, and, Kuang Wanfang, 39, each pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering and transporting stolen money, plus visa and passport fraud. If convicted of all charges, each faces a maximum of 70 years in prison and a US$1.5 million fine.

Citing "new, far more wide-ranging charges" contained in a Jan. 31 superseding indictment, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leavitt canceled a trial scheduled for later this month and set a new March 27 trial date. But he said that likely will be changed due to the case's complexity.

Defense lawyer Lawrence Litman of Las Vegas, representing Kuang, said outside court that the racketeering and money laundering conspiracy allegations set the scene for federal prosecutors to have to prove the Chinese defendants committed crimes abroad.

"We're actually going to have a trial here about whether money was stolen in China, because that's the basis for all the charges," Litman said. "If they were convicted in China and then came here with the money, that would be different." Kuang's brother, who also is named in the 15-count indictment, remained a fugitive Friday. If convicted of all charges, he would face 40 years in prison and a US$750,000 fine.

The four defendants, in shackles and jail uniforms, said they understood the charges against them, and each pleaded not guilty. They have been in custody since their arrests more than a year ago on a Sept. 21, 2004 indictment alleging they entered the United States using false identities and staged fake marriages with naturalized U.S. citizens.

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