President Trump personally asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help resolve the case of three UCLA men’s basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting while in Hangzhou for a tournament last week, people familiar with the situation said Monday.
Trump raised the arrests during a two-day state visit to Beijing, arriving a day after the three freshman players were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel. Guard LiAngelo Ball, brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball, and forwards Cody Riley and Jalen Hill did not play in the team’s victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Shanghai. They did not fly home with the team, and ESPN has reported that authorities have surveillance footage and that the players could be required to remain in Hangzhou for a week or two.
After Trump raised the matter, Xi promised to look into the case and ensure that the players are treated fairly and expeditiously, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has been in touch with the families of the players and has spoken with UCLA Coach Steve Alford, and Kelly remains in contact with Chinese authorities, the official added. This official indicated that charges against the players have been reduced and that the case is proceeding toward a resolution.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in an email that Trump raised the matter with Xi.
The State Department typically takes the lead on cases involving U.S. citizens who are arrested abroad, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is aware of the case, officials said. UCLA is one of the top basketball programs in the country, and the Ball family — including LiAngelo’s outspoken father, LaVar Ball — has become well-known in the sports world.
Monday afternoon, UCLA officials declined to comment on the latest developments, referring back to the school’s original statement on the matter last week. After Saturday’s win in Shanghai over Georgia Tech, Coach Steve Alford also elected not to elaborate beyond what he originally said in the wake of the initial reports.
News of the arrests was widespread, not only in the United States but also in China, breaking just a day before Trump arrived in the country. The president spent most of two days with Xi, a stay that included a tour of the Forbidden City, a state dinner and meetings. The two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear threat, bilateral trade relations and a host of other issues. They made no public mention of the UCLA case.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, David Nakamura