In late March, a Chinese woman was arrested at President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, resort Mar-a-Lago. Yujing Zhang allegedly attempted to gain access to the resort while traveling with gear that sounds like something out of a spy thriller: four cellphones, a laptop, thumb drives, two passports, an external hard drive containing malware, and a signal detector to find hidden cameras. Over $8,000 in cash was also discovered in her hotel room, the Miami Herald reports.
Now, the FBI counterintelligence squad has gotten involved, the case is reportedly being treated as a national security matter, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly “suggested” that Zhang might be a Chinese spy. So what’s going on? Here’s what we know so far.
Yujing Zhang was arrested on March 30 at Mar-a-Lago. She reportedly attempted to infiltrate an event there.
According to the Herald, Yujing Zhang, 32, was detained at Mar-a-Lago after attempting to infiltrate events at the resort. CNN reports she had arrived in Newark on March 28 via a flight from Shanghai. The Mar-a-Lago events she sought to attend were reportedly posted on Chinese social media by Li “Cindy” Yang, the Trump-connected South Florida spa entrepreneur who allegedly founded the massage parlor where police claim billionaire Robert Kraft solicited prostitution.
The Herald reports that Zhang initially told Secret Service agents that she was hoping to use the resort’s pool, but then said she was there to attend a “United Nations Friendship” event. However, there was no such event at Mar-a-Lago that day, but Yang had reportedly advertised — and canceled — a “Safari Night” event at the resort night, as well as an “International Leaders Elite Forum” event, per the Herald. A spokesperson for Yang said in a statement at the time of Zhang’s arrest: “Our client has stated that she does not know the woman who was arrested at Mar-a-Lago this weekend.”
Zhang was found to be traveling with a wide array of electronics equipment, including a device to detect hidden cameras.
According to initial reports, Zhang had been traveling with a thumb drive, laptop, external hard drive, and four cell phones. On Monday, a federal prosecutor revealed that Yhang was also allegedly carrying a device to detect hidden cameras in her hotel room. U.S. and Chinese currency, totaling more than $8,000, was also discovered in her hotel room, as well as five USB cards and nine USB drives, CBS News reports. Of that sum, around $7,500 was in $100 bills, CNN notes.
The FBI is now investigating the incident, and Zhang has been charged with lying to federal agents and entering a restricted area without authorization.
Congressional Democrats reportedly called for a counterintelligence investigation into Zhang shortly after she was detained. On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested during an appearance on CBS This Morning that Zhang may have been a spy. But as of Monday, the FBI is still looking into what happened. Per ABC News, a prosecutor told a judge on Monday that the FBI is investigating whether she was involved in espionage. However, prosecutor Rolando Garcia said that there are still “a lot of questions that remain to be answered,” and that there were no allegations of spying yet.
Zhang has been charged with lying to federal agents, as well as entering a restricted area without authorization.
But what else do we know about her?
At a Monday court hearing, Zhang said she was an investor and consultant for a private equity firm in Shanghai, the Herald reports. She told the judge, through a Mandarin interpreter, that she has a BMW and owns a house in China worth over $1 million. But prosecutors told the judge that Zhang is an “extreme flight risk” if she were to be released from prison, as “she has no ties” to the U.S., according to the report. Zhang hasn’t entered a plea on the criminal charges she faces at the moment, and CNN notes that the judge will decide next week if she should stay in jail until she is formally tried. Prosecutor Rolando Garcia told the judge, “She lies to everyone she encounters.”
We’ll update this post as we learn more.