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Uighur Whitewash Tale As Killer Correspondent Cites Iran and China Immunity and US Agrees

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Maxwell Book
BBC-Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN NY Mag

LITERARY COURTHOUSE, June 4 –  "You better get over here, Michael. There's a defendant talking crazy and Federal Defenders don't want to take the case."   

Michael Randall Long was half way through a motion for acquittal or in the alternative for a new trial for one of his other clients, who had insisted he was not guilty and still did, now awaiting sentencing.

So a new case in the SDNY Magistrates Court sounded better than rehashing the same old, same old. 

   "I'll be right over." It was easy enough. Long's office was just down Worth Street from the courthouse, on the second floor over the Ali Baba fruit stand.

It was late May and the flowers were in  bloom in front of the Columbus park playground, where the basketball courts had been taken over by skateboards. Didn't these kids go to school?  

Long used his hard pass to swipe in, and commented about the weather to the Court Security Officer, who'd used to work up in the Mag Court. Not too hot, not too cold, they both agreed.  

 Long took the elevator up to the 8th floor, past Probation and the Press Room where he felt sure Kurt Wheelock was working, hunched over the PACER terminal.

 On the eighth floor he walked past the painting of Justice Sotomayor, alumna SDNY was proud of, and looked out over Chatham Green and the two bridges. He used to smoke cigarettes out on that terrace. When he used to smoke. Now he avoid both like the plague, or black lung.   He took the other elevator down to the fifth floor and walked into the Magistrates Court.

 One of the Marshals held out his gloved fist, to bump it. "Your client is in there," he said, gesturing at the door to the lock-up.

"Though we can all hear him out here."    Long put his laptop down on the defense table, along with his phone, and went into the lock up, like entering another world.

 "I'm Michael Randall Long," he told the bearded man in the orange WCDOC jump suit. "I'll be representing you if you agree." 

  "I wanna talk to the prosecutor!" the man said.   

"I don't think that's a good idea," Long said. "At least not at this point." 

 "I have info that can get me out of here," the man continued. Long winced, at least inside. He didn't usually like representing cooperators. The Assistant US Attorneys always lorded it over him, like, We know that all of your other clients are guilty too. 

 "Why don't you tell me about it first?" he asked. "You're right they sometimes give a deal. But you have to present it right, and not give away the information for free, or for less that it is worth."  

"When they hear it I'm gonna need, like protection," the man said.   Long nodded. The guy didn't look like a drug dealer, at least not on the street. Despite the incomprehensible tattoo on the guy's right hand, he didn't seem likely to inspire fear, at least not physical fear.

"What is it?"   

"The UN," the guy said. "They paid me to kill someone."

* * *

   Long called the Marshal over. "I'm gonna need some privacy with him, before we go in front of the judge. If it's possible."  The Marshal nodded and led him to the side room. When the door closed, Long asked his client, or maybe client, to explain. 

 "There's this Chinese guy at the UN. He's the head of something called DESA, Economic and Social Affairs. He tells me a UN staff member has been spying, or leaking, that the UN was giving the Chinese government the names of Uighur activists who were going to testify at the UN. He tells me that scaring her won't be enough, she needs to be silenced. He says he'll pay me $100,000."  

Long thought of Kurt Wheelock and his issues with the UN. "And did you do it?" he asked. 

   "I went to check it out, just to see. The lady lives in Queens. I climbed up the fire escape, just to see if it could be done - and that's when the arrested me. They say I stole a laptop out of another apartment in the building. But it's not true." 

 "Why are you in Federal court?" Long asked.

 In his head he heard the kneejerk objection, Calls for a legal conclusion. But this was just a client interview, or try-out. 

 "I'm on probation. Or supervised release, whatever they call it. It came up when they were booking me, and they brought me here. I wanna make a deal." 

 Long thought of asking if he would have killed the UN staffer, if she'd been home. But why muddy the waters. "Lemme see what I can do," he said. "Sit tight." 

   "I don't have much choice," the guy said.

* * *

  Michael Randall Long didn't yet know to which Assistant US Attorney his client's case had been assigned. That might be better. One of the few AUSAs he got along with, Marcus Olson, was just down the hall in the US Attorney's suboffice on the fifth floor. Long went and rang the ball, waved up at the camera they would check him out through. The door buzzed open.

  With Olson, he got straight to the point. "I've got a client, still hasn't been presented or arraigned, who has information your Office could use."  

"I hear that a lot," Olson said. "Especially in drug cases."  

  "This is murder for hire," Long said - and watched to see Olson's eyes get wider. "And the hirer is not in drugs, or at least not mostly in drugs." He paused again. Drum roll. "It's a UN official. From China. And there's motive."  

Olson shook his head. "There'll be immunity problems with that, beyond credibility."  

 Long had heard about this black hole from Kurt Wheelock. He hadn't really believed it then, and didn't now. "Didn't EDNY recently indict a slew of Chinese spies?" 

   "They weren't direct Chinese government employees." Now it was Olson, pausing. "And the current management, they don't much want to charge the UN with anything." 

 "It's attempted murder," Long said.  

 Olson shrugged. "They're not buying that," he said. "But let me check, before we do the show in the Mag court. Sit tight."   Now it was Long who didn't have much choice.

* * *

   Michael Randall Long spent his time waiting for the prosecutor's response in the windowless hallway between the US Attorney's sub-office and the Magistrates Court. It was one of the few places in New York City still with a pay phone on the wall (it didn't work).  

 Olson came out and shook his head. "We can't make a deal, at least not at this time. The best I could do is get myself assigned to the case and offer you release today on his own signature, with two weeks to find two co-signers."  

  "GPS monitoring?" Long asked.  

   "We'd prefer it." 

  "Look, I'll get you the guy's passport today. He's no risk of flight."  

  Olson shrugged. "Higher bond, then. $150,000." 

  Long nodded. "OK let's get this done."   

Magistrate Judge Vratil was on duty this week. Long's client was brought out by the Marshals.

Long whispered to him, "I'm getting you out. We might get a deal later. But you won't be in jail tonight. Once you sign the bond, come to my office and I'll explain more." He gave the guy his card.  

 Judge Vratil's deputy asked, "Are you ready, counsel?" 

  "Ready as ever," Long said. He turned around to see who, if anyone, was in the gallery. And there was Kurt Wheelock in the back, talking to the CSO. Did the guy have some kind alert system? Or just too much time on his hands?  

 Judge Vratil's deputy banged the door, and said "All rise!" Judge Vratil came out and settled into her perch, taking off her COVID mask.

 Her deputy spoke first. "We're here in the matter of US versus Stewart Stogel. Will counsel make their appearances?"

  "Assistant US Attorney Marcus Olson for the Government."

  "Michael Randall Long for Mister Stogel." He paused. "At least prospectively.

  Judge Vratil did the appointment of counsel. "Are we going to have a bail fight?" she asked.  

"No Your Honor, we have agreed terms with the government," Long said.  

"OK let me write them down," Judge Vratil said.

The co-signers were referred to as FRP - financial responsible people -- and Long waived to the thirtieth day for any preliminary hearing. Judge Vratil read the bail-jumping warnings and it was over. 

   "Come to my office when you get out," Long said before his new client disappeared back into the holding cell. It was good Olson hadn't insisted on GPS; that might have required him to stay overnight in jail before getting it installed on his ankle. Long checked the gallery again but Kurt Wheelock was gone.    

"We're locking up, counselor," the CSO who Wheelock had been talking with told Long. He left.

* * *

    The sky was getting dark over Chatham Square and still Michael Randall Long's client had not shown up. Long called the clerk's office and asked if the bond had been signed.

"You kidding me?" the guy asked. "That was hours ago. We closing up now. Have a good evening." He hung up.  

Long thought back to his argument to Olson, that his client didn't need any GPS monitor, that turning in the passport would be enough. Actually, he hadn't gotten the passport. This could screw him up on other bond negotiations, for other clients. But where to look for his client?

   The knock on the door of his second floor loft should familiar. Two bursts of three fast knocks, then a turn of the door handle. "What the hell were you doing there, Kurt?" Long said as he opened the door.  

"You know me - I do that whenever I'm free. Unlike you, I don't get paid by the hour," Kurt said.  

"I've seen your Patreon," Long said. Actually, he'd let his five dollars a month subscription lapse. But Kurt's paid readership had been growing, ever since the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, and he probably didn't keep track of old readers falling away. At least Long hoped he didn't. 

 "The guy you're representing, he called me," Kurt said.   

"Really," Long deadpanned. "And where is he?"   

"He wouldn't say. Says he's scared of the UN. I think he'd Googled me and that's why he called me," Kurt said. 

 "He thought you have some kind of secret key to not getting screwed by the UN?" Long was joking, but Kurt wasn't laughing.  

  "No. He wants me to publish something. And I think I will. I just wanted to tell you first."  

Long asked, "Accusing the UN of contract killing?"  

"Yeah," Kurt said. "Blowing away the whistleblower." He paused. "That'll be my title.

* * *

   Michael Randall Long decided to wait and see what Kurt Wheelock published. The blogger worked fast, but it couldn't be immediate. So Long decided to jog across Chatham Square and through the projects to the City gym both he and Wheelock used, albeit at different times of day. They had been closed down during COVID but now even masks were no longer required.

The other work-outers were a mix of Chinese teens filming themselves, and tattooed seeming ex-cons, also filming themselves, with more weights on the barbells. Long found a poor man's Bowflex and worked out, listening to a podcast and wondering what Wheelock would write.

   After a time, now sweating, Long headed back to his office. Tasty Dumpling around the corner on Mulberry was already closed so he went into Ali Baba and filled a plastic clam shell with couscous and tzatziki. It came to $2.81 so Long got two peaches too.    Up in his office, eating tzatziki with a spoon, Long checked Wheelock's blog, which he insisted on calling a website.

 There is was: "Whistleblower Claims UN Hired Him To Kill Staff Member Who Exposed Collusion with CCP."  A bit long, and too jargony with "CCP," Long thought. But that was Wheelock.

Long copied the article and emailed it to himself. The question now was how the US Attorney's Office would deal with it. Would it make them want to make a deal with his client? Or to double down on prosecuting him, now calling him a bail jumper to boot?

* * *

  China and the UN were more Kurt Wheelock's thing than Long's. But he tried to bone up, to represent this client. UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet was just finishing a tour of Western China - Wheelock called it a whitewash - and have given a press conference in which she said she couldn't access the situation of the Uighurs. What was the point of the trip, then? Only to whitewash genocide? 

 Long was scrolling through photos and videos leaked from the Xinjiang jails when AUSA Marcus Olson called him.  

 "Do you see what Kurt Wheelock wrote?" Long asked him right off the bat. 

  "Yeah, we have a Google Alert on him over here. He's right about half the time."  

 Long said, "I think it's higher than that, at least a little. But what about a 5K1 letter for my client, or a deferred prosecution and he cooperates?"  

 "Things have changed," Olson said. "Or hadn't you heard?" 

 "What?" Long asked.  

"That UN staffer in Queens that your client was hired to kill. Well, now she's dead. And we're thinking of indicting your client for it."  

Long shook his head. "Why would he have confessed to being hired to kill her, before going out and doing it?" 

 "Hiding in plain sight, maybe. Anyway, he's beyond a person of interest. You better tell him to come in, or we'll get a warrant put out for his arrest." 

 "And no warrant for anyone at the UN?" Long asked.  

"No," Olson said. "They have immunity."

* * *

    Michael Randall Long, because it was his duty, called the cell number he had for his client. But it just rang and rang, not even any voice mail. Then he called Kurt Wheelock.   "Uh, do you know where your whistleblower is?" Long asked.   

Wheelock laughed. "He's YOUR client, isn't he?"   

"This isn't funny. The woman the UN and China were targeting, or at least he said he'd been paid to kill, is now in fact dead. So he's going to be taken in, one way or another. It's better for him if it's voluntary. I might even be able to argue again for release on bond, as long as he hasn't absconded."  

 Kurt Wheelock didn't laugh, but asked, "Bond on a murder charge? You really think so?"   He had a point.

 "It could change the charging decision. Or then might still offer him a cooperation deal, if we can find out who did the killing." Long paused. "The problem is, she was killed soon after he was released. And he didn't have any GPS monitor on."  

 "That was your doing, wasn't it?" Wheelock asked. Always the smart ass.  

 Long bulled on. "And his phone has been turned off, or thrown away. So we couldn't use cell site data to show he wasn't there."

  "He could have left his phone and gone there, anyway, they could say," Kurt pointed out. "That's what they showed in that Soho Chanel robbery case." It had been a gang from the projects, trading cell phones with other cowering teens before heading into Manhattan and breaking windows.  

"I remember that case, at least what you wrote about it," Long said. He'd try flattery if he had to. "Just tell me how I might reach him."    "Shield law," Kurt said curtly. "A journalist protects his sources."  

 "If you want to protect him, pass this message along - he should call me or turn himself in, otherwise when they find him they might just shoot him."    Kurt Wheelock wondered if Long meant the Marshals or the UN.

* * *

 Kurt Wheelock hadn't told Long, but he knew where Stew was hiding. There was a previously abandoned building on Webster Avenue up in the Bronx, still listed that way by the City, where it was easy to fall off the grid.

Finding, as Long had, that Stew's phone had been turned off, Kurt headed uptown.   He took the 4 train from Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall, then switched to the 5 at 125th Street. Three stops later he came out at 149th and Third Avenue. Even though it was still May there were cocito ice cream vendors and churros and corn on the cob covered with cheese and chilis. 

  Kurt got in the line for the 41 bus, the Webster Avenue Express except it went painfully slow, past blasted out factories and housing project towers and the incongruous condo-looking buildings that had been thrown up with tax breaks but were already breaking down. People had died in a big fire in one, just further north by Fordham Road.  

 Kurt finally reached the building, and knocked on the rolling metal gate of the storefront where he thought Stew would be hiding.

"It's me Kurt!" he yelled between knocks. "Kurt Wheelock!"    Slowing the rolling gate was raised from the inside, only two feet up. Kurt leaned down and scurried in. Like a rat, he thought. It was dark inside when Stew closed the gate behind him.  

"They're going to kill me," Stew told Kurt with certainty. That again.

   The room Stew was hiding out in was cluttered, with a rickety fold-up table and a pile of filthy dishes in the sink. Kurt Wheelock sat down at the table and asked, "If you can, tell me a bit more about how this UN official, Liu, asked you to commit the crime." 

  Stew sat down as well, swinging from a Diet Mountain Dew. "Liu used to be the deputy ambassador of China, then Guterres put him in charge of the UN's whole development department." 

 Kurt cut in, "Another way to pay China back from making Guterres Secretary General."  

Stew pushed on. "I knew Liu from when I was reporting on the UN for the Associated Press." It was hard to believe, now. But it was true. "So he asked me to do the job. When I pushed back, he said he had another correspondent waiting in line to do it."  

Kurt perked up, even in the half-light. "Who?" he asked.  

 "You remember Ali Barada?" Stew asked.   Of course Kurt remembered. When they were gunning, the first time, to throw him out of the UN, Barada had approached him at the table outside the UN Security Council and told him his blog sucked.

When Kurt told him where to go, Barada replied with a threat, that he worked with Hezbollah.    After Barada filed a bogus complaint with UN Security, Kurt had counter-filed with the the Hezbollah comment. Somehow he'd been portrayed as prejudiced for it. Now, banned from the UN, he just reported on a Hezbollah case in the SDNY court, US v. Alexei Saab. 

  Kurt asked, "You think Liu was serious about Barada being willing to do it?" 

 "Yep," Stew answered. "Liu even showed me a text message from Barada."    Kurt stood up, almost knocking the rickety table down. "So maybe once you got arrested, it's Barada who went ahead and killed her."   Stew said, "I wouldn't be surprised."

  But could Kurt or on-the-law Stew prove it? Or could Michael Randall Long?

* * *

 For Kurt Wheelock to make the approach to Ali Barada would be useless. Barada had already filed a false complaint helping to get Kurt thrown out of the UN. Ever drunk, as Barada often was, he'd see Kurt coming from a mile away. 

 But Kurt remembered a woman still working at France 24, which for some reason paid Barada, who'd said Barada has sexually harassed her. She hadn't quit because staying in the US required her to keep the job and visa. 

 Kurt felt dirty but he tried it. He called the woman - he'd left her unnamed in his one story on it, and would keep doing so - and asked her if she'd like to get back at Barada, and maybe even take over his job as the France 24 Arabic correspondent.

 Iwa, she said. They began to cook up a plot.

* * *

  The woman would call Ali and tell him she had changed her mind, she was ready to do what he'd been pushing for. To make it credible she'd say it would be in exchange for being designated his successor or co-equal, on the France 24 Arabic desk (that's where he'd been demanding service).  

  Meanwhile Michael Randall Long was to tell the prosecutor Marcus Olson what his client Stewart Stogel had told him, albeit second hand through Kurt: that UN and/or China official Liu had said Ali Barada was willing to do the killing. With the honey trap laid, they could arrest Barada and maybe he'd flip on those who hired him. Or not. 

 Ali Barada wanted to spike the football inside the UN, but the trap was laid outside in, in a room in the hotel across the street. This wasn't international territory, so an arrest could be made. Marcus Olson had the room wired for sound, and the arresting officers were in the room next door. Game on.

  Barada arrived drunk, as usual. It seemed he might not be able to perform - but that wasn't the crime they'd be arresting him for, if it was a crime at all any more. As Ali slapped his co-anchor across the face while trying to take his pants down, the officer rushed in. 

 "Ali Barada? You're under arrest for contract murder. You have the right to remain --" 

 Now Barada was reaching into his pant. No, no, no, he slurred. I am a diplomat! I am immunity!    "Of what country?"    Barara sneered. "Iran," he said. He paused. "And China." 

 A two-fer. Marcus Olson would have little problem getting his bosses to sign off on trying to pierce the immunity veil of Iran - or at least, less than going against China. 

* * *

  So how and when did Ali Barada go from being a UN correspondent for France 24 Arabic to having diplomatic immunity as a diplomat for Iran - and China at the same time?

Kurt Wheelock approached it journalistically. The US Mission to the UN was in charge of processing these requests to be registered as a diplomat and have the right to the blue licence plate. So Kurt wrote to the US Mission to the UN's spokesperson, one Olivia Dalton.

  Her Twitter profile said Formerly: @HRC @MichelleObama @BarackObama @JoeBiden @USDOT 44. Mom of 2. @GUPolitics Fellow. She/her. #HoyaSaxa #46  

Hoya Saxa? That was the profile, that Kurt could no longer see, of UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric. But anyway, a US State Department spokesperson would have to answer a US-based journalist's question about abuse of diplomatic credentials in the US - including for murder, right? 

 Well, no. Olivia Dalton did not respond. In fact, going back over the video of one of Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield's stand-up press conferences in the UN, Kurt found Olivia Dalton calling on Ali Barada and giving him a question. The UN staffer murdered in Queens was also American. What was going on here?

* * *

 Michael Randall Long gave it one last try with the prosecutor, Marcus Olson. "You know it's a scam," he told him. "How can this supposed journalist be at the same time a diplomat for Iran, and for China?  

  Olson shook his head. "I agree the State Department should check the double-dipping out," he said. 

 "They won't even answer press questions about it," Long said.  

"You mean from Wheelock?" Olson asked, and laughed. "No one answers that guy's questions."  

 "I saw that your boss answered one of his questions, about Allianz," Long said. 

  Olson shrugged. "We can't make the UN do anything," he said.

  "You can't or you won't?" Long asked.  

 "Maybe a bit of both," Olson said. "Anyway, the best I can do is try to put the fear of God into this Barada character. Maybe he'll leave the country on his own."  

"And that's it?" Long said.   

AUSA Marcus Olson said, "That's it."


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