Washington — Five individuals have been charged with working in the U.S. on behalf of a state-sponsored Chinese secret police agency to silence dissent and harass outspoken Chinese nationals living in the U.S., the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
Prosecutors unsealed three separate criminal complaints in federal court alleging the defendants stalked, harassed, and spied on Chinese nationals living in New York and throughout the U.S. The individuals, allegedly acting on orders from the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), engaged in various schemes, ranging from attempting to blackmail a congressional candidate with false claims of prostitution to trying to bribe an Internal Revenue Service employee to obtain one victim’s tax returns. At least one victim was even jailed in Hong Kong as a result of one of the criminal schemes.
Qiming Lin is accused of trying to intimidate a dissident who planned to run for Congress. The unnamed victim is a former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who later moved to the U.S., joined the military and became a naturalized citizen.
According to the criminal complaint, in September of 2021, about six months before the primary elections for Congress, Lin allegedly hired a private investigator to undermine the candidate before he could be elected. Investigators say he communicated with a private investigator “to see if there could be a scandal about the Victim that could be publicly released, such as an extramarital affair” or stealing money. If no scandals could be found, Lin allegedly asked, “‘can they create some?'”
“Right now we don’t want him to be elected,'” Lin said, according to the indictment.
Lin even allegedly suggested to the private investigator, “You go find a girl for him [the Victim], see if he would take the bait,” attempting to set the candidate up with a prostitute, and he instructed the private investigator to “dig up things from 1989 to now …[t]o see if there are any flaws before participating in the election now.”
Court documents reveal Lin left a voicemail on the private investigator’s phone suggesting physical violence would also be an acceptable approach to getting the dissident to drop his campaign.
“In the end, violence would be fine too,” Lin allegedly said in the message, “beat him until he cannot run for election.”
Lin is a 59-year-old Chinese national and remains at large. He is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and other counts.
In the second criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, Shujun Wang, a 73-year-old naturalized American citizen from China, is accused of using his leadership position in New York diaspora organizations to spy on members of his own community.
Wang, a member of the pro-democracy Memorial Foundation, allegedly acted under the direction of four MSS handlers and provided information to them about various protests and dissident group organizations. Specifically, prosecutors say Wang was found in possession of a list of names and contact information for Hong Kong democracy activists in 2019.
A Hong Kong activist mentioned by Wang to MSS was arrested for organizing a banned protest in China and charged with political crimes. And in another instance, Wang’s MSS handler instructed him to engage with “Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians,” all Chinese opposition members, at a pro-democracy event in Queens, New York.
Wang was arrested Wednesday morning.
Investigators say in the third criminal complaint that three other men worked together in schemes to quiet a dissenting artist and bribe an IRS worker.
Qiang “Jason” Sun is accused of directing Fan “Frank” Liu and Matthew Ziburis to spy on dissidents and spread negative information about them in apparent blackmail attempts.
In January 2021, Liu allegedly hired a private investigator to bribe an IRS employee in order to obtain the U.S. federal tax returns of a visual artist located in Southern California, so that he could disclose tax liabilities and publicly discredit him.
The dissident artist had sculpted a bust of a COVID-19 particle with the head of Chinese president Xi Jinping, a sculpture that prosecutors say Sun directed Ziburis to destroy.
Sun wrote, “Destroy all sculptures and things that are not good to our leaders,” court documents say. Ziburis is also accused of installing surveillance and GPS devices in the artist’s studio that Sun later monitored.
The three men also allegedly schemed against a Chinese dissident living in Indiana, whom they are accused of planning to lure into a mock interview with Liu’s media company. The recorded interview was intended to be used in Chinese propaganda videos against the dissident.
Liu and Ziburis were arrested Tuesday, while Sun remains at large.
Wednesday’s charges come nearly a month after the Justice Department announced it was ending the controversial “China Initiative,” launched under the Trump administration to hunt down Chinese spies. The initiative, often criticized for racial bias against Chinese-American academics, was replaced with a broader approach tackling national security threats within the department.
An internal review of China Initiative prosecutions found no indication of racial bias or prejudice. Still, the Justice Department said the initiative was “myopic,” chilled scientific research and created the perception the department applied different standards to people of with Chinese ethnicity.
“Transnational repression harms people in the United States and around the world and threatens the rule of law itself,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division on Wednesday, “This activity is antithetical to fundamental American values, and we will not tolerate it when it violates U.S. law.”