SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government said Friday that it had dropped all charges against the exiled Hmong military leader Gen. Vang Pao, who had been accused of plotting to overthrow the Communist government in his native Laos.
The announcement came after a grand jury in Sacramento issued a new indictment on Thursday against a dozen men accused of conspiring to give money, arms and other support to insurgents in Laos, and violations of the Neutrality Act.
Ten of the 12 defendants, all of whom live in California, had been charged in a 2007 indictment that named Gen. Vang Pao, as a ringleader in the plot. The new indictment replaces the previous one.
Gen. Vang Pao’s lawyer, John Keker, said the decision to drop the charges was a full retreat by government. “It’s a reflection that the government recognized this was a deeply flawed prosecution,” Mr. Keker said.
Gen. Vang Pao, who is 79 and lives in Southern California, led Hmong forces backed by the C.I.A. until the Communist takeover in 1975.
Mr. Keker said the general “was grateful and relieved that the government finally recognized his innocence” but was concerned that several of his friends — and former co-fighters in Laos — were still under indictment.
United States Attorney Lawrence G. Brown of the Eastern District of California said Gen. Vang Pao’s prosecution had been dropped “based on the totality of the evidence in the case.”
“The government believes, as a discretionary matter, that continued prosecution of defendant Vang Pao is no longer warranted,” Mr. Brown wrote in a court motion.
In a news release, Mr. Brown said that prosecutors could drop charges for a variety of reasons including “the probable sentence or other consequences if the person is convicted.”
The charges had been a stunning rebuke for Gen. Vang Pao, who had long enjoyed an exalted status among many Hmong, an ethnic minority in Laos. He raised money for Hmong causes and had been outspoken in his desire for a democratic government in Laos. His arrest and potential prosecution set off protests, including demonstrations in Sacramento, which has a large Hmong community.
Several of the defendants named in the new indictment work with Laotian-American groups in the Central Valley of California.
Harrison Ulrich Jack, a West Point graduate and retired lieutenant colonel from the California National Guard, is still under indictment.
The case against Gen. Vang Pao — and the ongoing prosecution — was largely based on a sting operation involving conversations in 2007 with an undercover agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In those conversations, the government said the defendants outlined a plan to provide the means and manpower for insurgents to bomb government buildings in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, and shoot down Laotian military planes with Stinger missiles.
The indictment lists a raft of weapons and equipment that defendants plotted to supply to insurgents, including antitank rockets, mines, explosives, night-vision goggles and medical kits.
The goal, the new indictment says, was “to overthrow the government of Laos,” which remains a Communist state. Its relations with the United States have thawed since the cold war ended.
Mr. Keker called the sting operation “wrongheaded” and said the resulting charges had been “manufactured out of whole cloth.”
He also said that Gen. Vang Pao had not made any deal to cooperate with the prosecution. “I can assure you of that,” he said.