US lawmaker trading firearms with PH Muslim rebels?

Ryan Macasero
FBI agents are trying to establish California State Senator Leland Yee traded weapons with Philippine 'Muslim rebel groups'

SUSPECT. California State senator and candidate Leland Yee waits outside polling station with his wife Maxine Yee inside San Francisco City Hall in 2011 when he was mayoral candidate. The senator is now facing federal charges of corruption and racketeering, among other crimes. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – It was a historic moment for the Philippines. While many Filipinos rejoiced over the signed peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government Peace Panel in Manila, signifying an earnest step toward peace in Mindanao – thousands of miles away, in California, USA, the arrest of a 65-year-old Chinese American lawmaker sent shockwaves that reached the far-flung areas of southern Mindanao. 

A 137-page affidavit, the result of a 5-year investigation on Leland Yee, was made public by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) soon after his arrest. The affidavit complaint revealed that the senator was allegedly proactive in illegal arms trading with both Russian organized crime groups and what they described as “Muslim rebel groups” in the southern Philippines.

Yee was arrested in his office in Sacramento, the capital city of the US state of California, on Wednesday, March 26 (March 27 in Manila), on charges of public corruption and trafficking firearms, among other charges, according to the San Jose Mercury News

According to the affidavit submitted by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel V Pascua, Senator Leland Yee had a meeting at a hotel in San Francisco on March 5, 2014 to discuss firearms trafficking.

The affidavit said Yee met with a certain Keith Jackson who was in contact with a particular Dr Wilson Lim whose “associates were trying to overthrow the Philippine government.” Also present was an undercover FBI agent.

Yee told the undercover agent that Wilson Lim was originally from Mindanao “where most of the Muslim rebel groups fighting the national government are based.” On page 97 of the affidavit, Yee visited Mindanao “upon the invitation of the Mindanao government” in 2012. “Senator Yee said when he arrived, he was surrounded by numerous armed guards carrying automatic rifles,” the affidavit read.

Smuggled weapons to US

The undercover agents discussed with Yee how Lim was able to smuggle weapons from the Philippines into the United States through ports in Florida and planned to smuggle weapons into the United States again, but this time through ports in New Jersey. 

Yee demonstrated his knowledge of the intricacies of the armed rebels in Mindanao and brought up how some government officials actually collude with the rebels.

In a meeting on March 11, Lim advised the undercover agent that he would meet with “the head of a Muslim group.” Yee told the agent Muslims in Mindanao had access “to a lot of money.” Yee said while he was in Mindanao, he got to shoot some of the weapons, including automatic rifles, they discussed during the meeting. 

According to the charges, the amount from the pending arms deal would amount to US$2 million (or about P90 million). Among the guns discussed at the meeting were M-16 automatic rifles. Ironic, coming from the senator named California’s “anti-gun” and “anti-violent video game” senator by the local media.

Raids

Yee’s offices in Sacramento and his home in the Sunset District of San Francisco were raided by the authorities as part of the ongoing investigation. According to SFGate.com, the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, the raids occurred in several locations throughout the region. The FBI seized desktop computers and boxes “wrapped in red evidence tape.”

Yee is a political favorite among Fil-Ams. He even has regular columns in most Filipino newspapers in Northern California and is known to entertain most invites to Fil-Am community and political events. The darker side to the darling of the Fil-Am community was unknown to most.

And it’s no mystery why Filipinos love him. His district is home to thousands of Filipino voters, including Daly City, which has the highest concentration of Filipinos in any municipality or city in the US. 

Yee is running for California Secretary of State this 2014 election. He is also the first Asian-American senator to be appointed Speaker Pro Tempore in California’s lower house. The affidavit alleges that Yee’s involvement in illegal arms trading was to fund his cash-strapped Secretary of State campaign.

He ran for mayor of San Francisco and lost in 2011 against another Chinese-American, Edwin Lee.
 

Organized crime

Yee is one of 26 individuals implicated in a 5-year investigation targeting mostly Asian-Americans allegedly involved in organized crime activities. 

While he openly supports gun control, passed a bill (which was later ruled unconstitutional) banning violent video games, and advocates for an open and transparent government, the affidavit paints a much different and darker picture of Yee.

The complaint also alleged that Yee, along with Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, an infamous alleged Chinese gang leader in San Francisco, and 5 other suspects allegedly laundered $2.3 million for undercover agents between 2011 and 2013. 

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Yee’s lawyer, Paul DeMeester, declined requests for statements from the media. 

Yee has been in politics since the late 80s. He began his political career as a member of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education. Afterwards, he was elected San Francisco District 4 supervisor in 1996, California State Assembly in 2002, and then the State Senate in 2006. – Rappler.com

 

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers social welfare for Rappler. He started at Rappler as social media producer in 2013, and later took on various roles for the company: editor for the #BalikBayan section, correspondent in Cebu, and general assignments reporter in the Visayas region. He graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. Outside of work, Ryan performs spoken word poetry and loves attending local music gigs. Follow him on Twitter @ryanmacasero or drop him leads for stories at ryan.macasero@rappler.com