In 3 cases, the DOJ alleges plots to target U.S.-based Chinese dissidents and disrupt their activities.
By Eugene Whong
A FBI wanted poster for Sun Qiang is visible as Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney Breon Peace speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022, to discuss recent law enforcement actions to address transnational repression. The Justice Department says a Chinese operative sought to undermine the congressional candidacy of a Chinese dissident in New York, including by seeking to uncover or even manufacture derogatory information that would cause him to lose the race.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday accused five people of attempting to suppress criticism of the Chinese government, including by trying to thwart the campaign of a candidate for Congress.
In three separate cases unveiled on Wednesday, government prosecutors allege several plots to undercut criticism of China on U.S. soil. The allegations include considering physically assaulting the congressional candidate; attempting to bribe U.S. tax officials in exchange for information about an advocate for democratic reform in China; and spying on members of the U.S.-based Chinese dissident community.
“This activity is antithetical to fundamental American values, and we will not tolerate it when it violates U.S. law,” Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general leading the DOJ’s National Security Division, said in a statement.
“The Department of Justice will defend the rights of Americans and those who come to live, work and study in the United States. We will not allow any foreign government to impede their freedom of speech, to deny them the protection of our laws or to threaten their safety or the safety of their families.”
The first case alleges that Qiming Lin, 59, of China, an agent of China’s Ministry of State Security, hired a private investigator in New York to disrupt the campaign of a Brooklyn resident and asked the investigator to physically attack him.
The New York Times identified the candidate as Yan Xiong, a student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government. After naturalizing as a U.S. citizen, Yan in 2015 participated in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Last year he announced his candidacy to represent Long Island, where he lived at the time, in Congress.
According to the DOJ statement, Lin told the investigator that the security ministry did not want Yan to be elected and asked him to find damaging information about the candidate. If none was available, Lin allegedly suggested manufacturing a scandal by attempting to hire a prostitute to seduce him and then taking clandestine pictures of the encounter.
In December, Lin asked the investigator to consider attacking Yan. The DOJ released a transcript of what it said was a voice message from the state security agent: “Beat him [chuckles], beat him until he cannot run for election. Heh, that’s the-the last resort. You-you think about it. Car accident, [he] will be completely wrecked [chuckles], right?”
If convicted, Lin, who remains at large, could face up to 10 years in prison.
The second case is against Shujun Wang, 73, of Queens, who has allegedly been spying on the Chinese diaspora for the security ministry since 2015. Once a visiting scholar and author, he contributed to the formation of a pro-democracy organization in Queens that honors two former Chinese Communist Party leaders who advocated reforms but were removed from power.
Wang allegedly collected information about activists, dissidents and human rights leaders and reported his findings to the Chinese government. He was able to gain their confidence and record information he learned in conversations with the victims, the DOJ said.
“The victims of Wang’s efforts included individuals and groups located in New York City and elsewhere that the PRC considers subversive, such as Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, advocates for Taiwanese independence, and Uyghur and Tibetan activists, both in the United States and abroad,” the DOJ said.
He also denied connections with the PRC government or security ministry during a 2017 interview in Queens, the statement said, but later admitted his crimes to an undercover law enforcement officer.
Authorities arrested Wang in New York on Wednesday. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.
The third case accuses Fan “Frank” Liu, 62, of Long Island, Matthew Ziburis, 49, of Oyster Bay, New York, and Qiang “Jason” Sun, 40, of China, with attempting to act as agents of the PRC by bribing tax officials for information about a pro-democracy activist living in the U.S.
Liu heads a New York-based media company and hired Ziburis, a former correctional officer, as a bodyguard. The two allegedly took instructions from Qiang Sun, who is based in China and works at an international technology company.
In another plot, Liu posed as an art dealer interested in buying the works of a dissident, while Ziburis bugged the dissident’s workspace and vehicle. Sun then could spy on the dissident over the internet.
Liu and Ziburis were also arrested Wednesday, and face three charges, two of which could result in sentences of up to five years each. One charge carries a potential 15-year sentence.
The DOJ has previously expressed concern over Chinese government attempts to disrupt activities by dissidents in various communities in the U.S. The Obama administration in 2015 warned China about its agents in the U.S. who attempted to harass Chinese residents.
Relations between Washington and Beijing are at a low point due to China’s close relationship with Russia and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which the U.S. and its allies oppose.