BEIJING — Three UCLA men’s basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China are on their way back to the United States, the university said Tuesday, after President Trump personally intervened in the case with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
“UCLA Men’s Basketball student-athletes LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley are returning from China to Los Angeles at this time,” Alex Timiraos, associate director of communications for UCLA men’s basketball, said in a statement.
Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12 Pacific college basketball, told the Associated Press the matter had been “resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities.”
Earlier, Trump acknowledged that he had asked the Chinese leader to help resolve the case of the three players who were arrested for shoplifting while in Hangzhou for a tournament last week.
Trump raised the arrests during a two-day state visit to Beijing, arriving after the three freshman players were accused last week of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel. Ball, brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball, and forwards Riley and Hill did not play in the team’s victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Shanghai.
Pac-12’s Scott thanked Trump, the White House and the State Department for their efforts in resolving what he called “the incident with authorities in Hangzhou, China.” He indicated that UCLA made “significant efforts” on behalf of its three players.
While stealing goods worth more than 2,500 yuan ($380) is supposed to merit jail time — and stealing goods worth between 7,000 and 10,000 yuan ($1,050 and $1,510) could bring between two and three years in jail. But the sentence can be mitigated if they confess, show remorse and pay compensation.
The fact that the three have escaped so lightly can only be attributed to the fact of them being high-profile foreigners, who could command support from the presidents of the United States and China, as well as the influential Alibaba e-commerce giant who sponsored UCLA’s game in Shanghai.
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.
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.
Nakamura reported from Manila. Brian Murphy contributed to this report.