By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -The leader of a U.S. think tank has been charged with acting as an unregistered agent of China, as well as seeking to broker the sale of weapons and Iranian oil, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said on Monday.
Gal Luft, a citizen of the United States and Israel, is accused of recruiting and paying a former high-ranking U.S. government official on behalf of principals based in China in 2016, without registering as a foreign agent as required by law.
Prosecutors did not identify the former official, but said he was working as an adviser to the then president-elect Donald Trump at the time. Luft is accused of pushing the adviser to support policies favorable to China, including by drafting comments in the adviser’s name published in a Chinese newspaper.
A Twitter account bearing Luft’s name, with more than 15,000 followers, said in a Feb. 18 tweet that he had been arrested in Cyprus “on a politically motivated extradition request by the U.S.”
“I’ve never been an arms dealer,” Luft said in the tweet. He did not immediately respond to a direct message sent by Reuters seeking comment.
Luft, 57, was arrested in February in Cyprus on U.S. charges, but fled after being released on bail while awaiting extradition, prosecutors said. He is not currently in U.S. custody.
Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, which describes itself as a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on energy, security and economic trends.
“Gal is a man of total integrity and honesty,” the think tank said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are confident in his innocence.”
Prosecutors said Luft brokered a deal for Chinese companies to sell weapons to countries including Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya, despite lacking a license to do so as required by U.S. law.
He is also accused of setting up meetings between Iranian officials and a Chinese energy company to discuss oil deals, despite U.S. sanctions on the Middle Eastern country.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates and Bill Berkrot)
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