Chinese consulate arson suspect in court


A man accused of lighting a fire at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco on New Year’s Day made a brief appearance in federal court Jan. 7 and was appointed a government-paid lawyer.

Yan Feng, 39, of Daly City, was arrested Jan. 3 after he called Daly City police and told them he was the person who had gone to the front of the consulate at about 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 and ignited gasoline brought in plastic containers.

Feng allegedly told FBI agents in an interview that he had been hearing voices, and that he targeted the consulate “because all the voices he had been hearing were in Chinese and the Chinese consulate had to have been involved,” according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case.

The building, located at 1450 Laguna St., was damaged but no one was hurt in the fire.

In a San Francisco courtroom this morning, U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte appointed Federal Defender Steve Kalar as Feng’s defense lawyer after Feng submitted a document saying he couldn’t afford a private attorney.

Laporte ordered Feng to return to court on Jan. 15 for a detention hearing to determine whether he will be kept in custody or granted bail while awaiting trial. He will remain in custody until then.

Kalar, who is the chief of the federal public defender’s office for Northern California, declined to comment on the case outside of court.

Feng is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China who has legal permanent residency in the United States, according to FBI spokesman Peter Lee, who said he did not know Feng’s occupation.

Feng is charged in a federal criminal complaint filed Monday with one count of arson, defined as maliciously damaging property by means of fire, and a second count of willfully damaging property belonging to a foreign government.

Each count carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison if he is convicted.

Dressed in red jail garb, Feng, who has a slight build and dark hair that hangs nearly to his shoulders, spoke only once during the hearing, to confirm that he had signed the financial affidavit. He spoke through a Mandarin interpreter.

Laporte noted that the affidavit appears to show that Feng has a financial deficit of $10,000, and Kalar confirmed in court that the statement was correct. Kalar also told the magistrate he is discussing certain issues, which he did not specify, with prosecutors.
The next step in the case after the detention hearing will be either a preliminary hearing on the complaint or the issuance of a grand jury indictment that would replace the complaint.

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