Breaking a long silence, a politically connected Chinese businessman living in the United States has denied through his lawyer that he handed over Chinese state secrets, including launch codes for nuclear
weapons, to American authorities.
Ling Wancheng, brother of disgraced former presidential aide Ling Jihua, was the subject of media reports last week asserting that he had been debriefed by US officials and provided nuclear secrets as well as personal information about Chinese leaders.
However his US lawyer said his client, an avid golfer, “came to the US to share golf secrets, not state secrets”.
READ MORE: Telling tales: brother of disgraced Chinese presidential aide Ling Jihua defects to US and reveals state secrets, says report
Ling Wancheng’s case has generated intense interest in both China and the US because of the access his brother, Ling Jihua, once had to the inner workings of China’s Communist Party leadership while aide to former president Hu Jintao.
Gregory Smith, a Washington lawyer and former associate White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, told Reuters he had been retained by Ling Wancheng.
He said that Ling Wancheng was in the US, but declined to say whether his client had applied for asylum and whether he was talking to US authorities.
Ling Wancheng had not previously issued any statements or confirmed that he remained in the US or was represented by counsel.
Smith said Ling Wancheng was upset by the recent allegations. They had appeared in the Washington Free Beacon and later in reports in Britain’s Financial Times.
Smith said he had been authorised by Ling Wancheng to make the following statement: “The absurd rumours that he is in possession of a large number of secrets, including keyboard nuclear codes, and rumours that he has handed over state secrets to the US government, reported by media outlets, is a baseless lie and a groundless defamation, and he reserves his right through me to take action as appropriate.”
Bill Gertz, senior editor at the news website Washington Free Beacon and author of a February 3 article that Ling Wancheng has disputed, said of Ling Wancheng’s denials: “I have no comment.”
The Financial Times did not respond to email requests for comment.
Ling Wancheng’s older brother, Ling Jihua, was once head of the Communist Party’s General Office of the Central Committee, a powerful job similar to that of a cabinet secretary in Western Westminster style governments. In that position he would have had access to information about the Chinese government’s inner workings.
READ MORE: The rise and fall of brother of Ling Jihua, ex-aide to former president Hu Jintao
Ling Jihua was expelled from the party last year, becoming one of the highest-profile targets of an anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping.
Ling Jihua is now awaiting trial on bribery and other charges.
“One presumes he [Ling Wancheng] is a valuable asset,” said Christopher K. Johnson, a former senior CIA China analyst, who is now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“His brother was certainly in a very sensitive position in China, and would have had access to some very sensitive information. How much and to what degree did he pass this information on to his brother? That is the big question.”
US officials have consistently declined to answer questions about Ling Wancheng, including whether he has applied for asylum and whether he has been debriefed by government agents.
Jennifer Elzea, of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government department that deals with asylum applications, said the department did not confirm or deny asylum applications because of strict confidentiality rules governing the process.
A US State Department official declined to comment on any agency dealings with China over Ling Wancheng.
The official said the State Department regularly engaged with China on law enforcement matters, and China had raised a number of specific cases of concern.
Marc Raimondi, national security spokesman at the US Department of Justice, declined to comment.
China’s Foreign Ministry also declined to comment on Ling Wancheng, saying that the issue was not within its purview.
China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which handles investigations around corruption, did not respond to a request for comment.