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Jun 24, 2005

Witnesses claim Chinese immigrants smuggled through Belize

Story PictureIt’s a story that made international headlines: an apparently respectable New York City businesswoman accused of smuggling thousands of Chinese immigrants into the United States, holding them hostage, and laundering the ransom money. Even worse, Cheng Chui Ping was accused of participating in the 1993 ill-fated Golden Venture that left ten Chinese nationals dead in the waters off New York. But there is a Belize angle to the bizarre story, for among the documents found on the woman known as “Big Sister Ping” was a Belizean passport and witnesses during her trial have alleged that Belize was among the countries used as way stations in the underground railway. This week ?Big Sister Ping? was convicted by a U.S. District Court in Manhattan on charges of operating a smuggling ring, money laundering, and trafficking in ransom proceeds. She now faces up to thirty-five years in prison. Jurors also determined that she fled the U.S. in 1994 to avoid prosecution. However, they were deadlocked on the charge of hostage taking, and she was cleared of a count that she laundered sixty thousand U.S. for other smugglers in 1992. Two “snakeheads”, as the smugglers are popularly known, testified that they had worked for ?Big Sister Ping? and that she smuggled immigrants out of China to Hong Kong, Thailand, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Africa and eventually got them to New York City. Cheng fled to China in 1994, but was arrested in 2000 in Hong Kong and was extradited to the U.S. to stand trial in 2003. As News Five reported in May, when ?Big Sister Ping? was picked up in Hong Kong she was in possession of three passports: one from China, one from the U.S. and one from Belize. Although there has been no official report on the status of the investigation in Belize into how and when she acquired her Belize passport, Immigration Department Officials have indicated to News Five that there is a record of Xiu Qing Zhang being legally issued a Belize passport in May of 1988 under the original Economic Citizenship programme. Twelve years later, a new passport was issued to the same person, but this time using her English name, Lily Zhang.


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