WASHINGTON: 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 for 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.
“When a public servant is suspected of potential misconduct or federal crimes that violate the public trust, we vigorously investigate such claims,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
The charges against Claiborne were announced just ahead of an April 6-7 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.
Claiborne, 60, “allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” said US Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord.
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.