The Justice Department on Monday announced charges against six Chinese citizens, including five suspected spies, accused of working on behalf of the Chinese government to recruit US citizens as sources and undermine federal lawsuits against a major Chinese company.
According reload documents, the Chinese telecommunications company was facing federal prosecution in Brooklyn, New York. Although the indictment does not name the company, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to CNN that it was Huawei.
The announcements underscore the department’s increased efforts to crack down on Chinese spies working on US soil to undermine US government interests, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday at a press conference.
“As these cases demonstrate, the Chinese government has sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our justice system that protects those rights,” Garland said. “They did not succeed.”
Among the alleged spies, Gouchun He and Zheng Wan, were charged with interfering with a federal lawsuit against global telecommunications company Huawei. The two were not arrested.
They allegedly had a relationship with a law enforcement official implicated in the case from 2017. He and Wang believed they recruited the official as a Chinese asset, according to charging documents, but the US official worked as a “double agent” under FBI supervision, maintaining their allegiance to the United States.
When the Huawei investigation began, the pair reportedly asked the official for witness information, trial evidence and new charges that might be brought against Huawei. In exchange, the US official received thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry, prosecutors say.
He and Wang continued to pay the US official for information, court documents show, sending thousands of dollars in bitcoin payments as recently as last week.
As the Huawei investigation progressed, He and Wang reportedly stepped up their efforts to interfere in the Huawei lawsuits. According to the charging documents, He and Wang asked law enforcement officials to record prosecutors during trial strategy meetings so they could share nonpublic information with Huawei.
The US official gave the two alleged Chinese spies a photograph of a single-page document with a fake “classified” marking related to the case instead, according to the indictment. The US official was reportedly paid $41,000 for the document.
In a separate diagram, prosecutors allege that four Chinese nationals engaged in a decade-long program to recruit individuals in the United States to work as assets for the Chinese government and relay information they deemed useful to China’s intelligence objectives.
According to the indictment, the defendants – some of whom were Chinese intelligence agents – worked under the guise of a bogus think tank to try to recruit Americans, including college professors, a former official Federal Law Enforcement and Homeland State Security. The defendants attempted to bribe their targets with lavish gifts, prosecutors say, including an all-expenses-paid trip to China.
The four defendants hoped to obtain technology and equipment to return to China, according to the indictment. The defendants also reportedly hoped to end protests in the United States that the Chinese government considered embarrassing.
Each of the four men is charged with conspiracy to act in the United States as agents of a foreign government. The department said in a press release that the men were residents of China, and it is unclear whether they were arrested.
Monday’s announcements come after news broke that last week the DOJ unsealed a charge describing a plot to intimidate a US resident into returning to China to face criminal charges.
According to the indictment, seven Chinese nationals threatened a New York resident and his family, including family members still living in China, with physical harm, including incarceration.
The case is linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party. fox hunt operation, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives. The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens accused of corruption, who had fled the country with large sums of money.
Two of the defendants in this case have been arrested. A common thread running through many of these cases is that Chinese citizens facing US charges live overseas and are unlikely to ever face trial in federal courts.
This story has been updated with additional details.