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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 25, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court on a charge of aiding and abetting attempted alien smuggling. This is in connection with the arrest of 51 of his compatriots on board a fishing vessel that was caught trying to enter Guam's territorial waters during May of last year.

Gao Xing, 16 years old, could face at least 46 months imprisonment for the crime that, under the law, carries a maximum of 10 years in jail, a three-year supervised release, deportation and a fine of $250,000.

District Court Judge Alex R. Munson set the sentencing date for April 25, 2000 and placed Mr. Gao in the juvenile facility while awaiting the court sentence.

In the plea agreement he signed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Baka, two other charges on attempted alien smuggling filed against Mr. Gao were dismissed.

As part of the terms, he will serve as a federal witness in the prosecution of others charged by the U.S. government in connection with the May 1999 incident.

Named defendants in the lawsuit were Shi Guo Rui, He Kui, He Xi Di, Gao Liang, Xue Jian Hui, Xue Jin Hui, Shi Peng, He Xiu Jin and Xue Er Jin.

He Xi Di, Shi Guo Rui, Gao Liang, He Xiu Jin were acquitted of all charges last October after a jury trial, while Xue Jian Hui and Shi Peng were found guilty.

Mr. Gao and the nine alleged crewmen brought 51 Chinese from Fujian province, including themselves, on board a fishing vessel in an attempt to illegally enter Guam.

The suspects were "enforcers" who intimidated, coerced, beat and detained the smuggled aliens aboard the boat and otherwise assisted and aided in the operation and the sailing of the vessel, according to court documents.

During the trip, the passengers were in the fish hold of the boat, a compartment below the main deck normally used for storing caught fish. Mr. Gao knew that they were Chinese being smuggled into Guam.

One or more of the defendants also made radio calls to the People's Republic of China for the purpose of arranging payment for the smuggling, the documents stated.

Investigations conducted by U.S. immigration special agent Timothy Isenhart revealed that each of the undocumented migrants paid the crewmen 15,000 Chinese RMB in exchange for their trip to Guam, where they had hoped to obtain asylum.

The Chinese boats were, however, intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and the passengers were sent to Tinian, where they were detained.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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