US & Canada

Yujing Zhang: Woman who sparked alarm at Mar-a-Lago found guilty

Yujing Zhang, 33, flanked by two U.S. marshals, stands to leave after she was found guilty of lying to a federal officer and trespassing at U.S.President Donald Trump"s Mar-a-Lago resort, in a sketch made at U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Zhang, flanked by two US marshals, leaving US court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A Chinese woman has been found guilty of trespassing at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and of lying to a federal agent.

Yujing Zhang, 33, was arrested in March and was found carrying several electronic devices.

She faces up to six years in prison when she is sentenced in November.

Zhang, who acted as her own lawyer, maintained her innocence during her closing arguments, telling the court: "I did nothing wrong."

"I went into the Mar-a-Lago to have a visit," Zhang told the jury. "So that's what I want to say, and thank you for your attention."

Her trial in Florida saw several odd moments. Despite the judge's attempts to persuade her otherwise, Zhang fired her public counsel, choosing to represent herself.

She often appeared uncomfortable speaking in English, and was also accused of pretending not to understand proceedings.

Image copyright Broward County Sheriff's Office
Image caption Yujing Zhang

On Monday, Zhang arrived in court in her jail uniform instead of civilian clothes, complaining she had not been provided with undergarments. Judge Altman allowed her to change before the trial began.

What happened at Mar-a-Lago?

Zhang was arrested on 30 March at the president's club carrying two Chinese passports, a computer and four mobile phones, among other devices, agents said. Claims one of the devices was loaded with malware were later rescinded.

Zhang told security at Mar-a-Lago that she was there to go to the pool, but later told a receptionist she was there for a United Nations event that prosecutors said she knew had been cancelled, according to court documents.

"Due to a potential language barrier issue," staff believed she was related to a club member and let her in, the documents said. But a receptionist who knew the event was off flagged her to agents.

Secret Service agents questioned Zhang after she was apprehended in the resort's lobby. No swimming apparel was found on her person, according to court documents.

Prosecutors used text messages between Zhang and the event organiser to prove she knew the charity gala had been cancelled before she left China.

"She lied to everybody to get on that property," Assistant US Attorney Roland Garcia told jurors.

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Media captionMar-a-Lago is a private members club as well as the Trump family's winter getaway.

Despite the guilty verdict the trial did not establish why exactly she was there. She told agents after her arrest a friend in China had encouraged her to speak to a member of Trump's family about Chinese-US economic relations.

Mr Trump was staying at Mar-a-Lago that weekend but elsewhere at the time of the incident.

There has been little comment on Zhang's case in China. Hours before Zhang was found guilty, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said suggestions of connections between Zhang and the Chinese government were "laughable".

"The US has had too much suspicion lately," Ms Hua told a news conference, "Some Americans could become sci-fi writers now."

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