- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A federal judge yesterday found probable cause to send to a grand jury the case of a Vietnamese immigrant accused of punching a high-ranking Vietnamese diplomat who was visiting Washington in June.

Tuan Phuoc Le, 33, of Atlanta, is facing felony assault charges that he punched in the face Nguyen Quoc Huy, vice chairman of the Prime Minister’s Office for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, during a protest at the Willard InterContinental Hotel on June 21, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the District.

Mr. Le is charged with assaulting and injuring a foreign official, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.

However, if convicted, Mr. Le — a legal permanent resident, but not a U.S. citizen — could face deportation back to Vietnam, from which he emigrated in 1993. Human rights advocates have said Mr. Le likely would be oppressed and imprisoned if he were sent back to the communist country.

At yesterday’s preliminary hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay sent Mr. Le’s case to the grand jury, which will decide whether to indict Mr. Le on the assault charges and send his case to trial.

During the hearing, assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Hegyi provided several pieces of evidence, including still images from a security camera behind the Willard, which show Mr. Le about to strike Mr. Huy, Mr. Le running away from the scene and Mr. Huy laying on the ground.

Court records show that after punching Mr. Huy in June, Mr. Le said the vice chairman “was a communist” and that “he killed my U.S. Marine father in Vietnam.”

Mr. Hegyi and federal public defender David Bos, who is representing Mr. Le in the matter, said they want to close the case before it goes to trial.

“I think we’re going to try to resolve it,” Mr. Hegyi said after the hearing.

Meanwhile, federal immigration officials have begun removal proceedings for Mr. Le based on a prior conviction for domestic assault. Officials could not provide the exact date, but said it took place in California.

“Under U.S. immigration law, [the conviction] makes you removable from the United States,” said Mike Gilhooly, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Parastoo Zahedi, Mr. Le’s immigration attorney in Northern Virginia, said she had not yet seen the specific charges, but that they were related to an assault in California in the 1990s.

“It was apparently a minor event, but they’re alleging it was an aggravated felony and we’re planning on fighting it,” Miss Zahedi said. When the incident occurred “this was not considered to be a huge crime.”

Mr. Le had a legal visa when he came to the United States, Miss Zahedi said. He was released on $30,000 bond after being held for the prior immigration violations, stemming from the California assault. He has since has been permitted to return home to Atlanta.

Miss Zahedi said Mr. Le obtained his permanent residency because his father was an American in the military serving in Vietnam. It was there that Mr. Le’s father met Mr. Le’s mother.

Duc Tran, a Philadelphia-based spokesman for the Coalition for Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Vietnam, said Mr. Le is a hero for many Asian-Americans who suffered under Vietnam’s communist rule.

“I’m not pro-violent, but we can do this, we can confront them,” Mr. Tran said. “… For Vietnamese, this is a big issue. We have a lot of anger.”

The Vietnamese community in the United States has raised about $42,000 to pay for the legal costs of Mr. Le and Jerry Kiley, a Vietnam veteran facing simple assault charges after throwing red wine in Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s direction at a banquet June 21.

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