Chinese Officer Charged With Harassing N.Y. Congressional Candidate – The New York Times


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Yan Xiong, a Chinese dissident who immigrated to America and is now a political candidate in New York, was targeted by an agent of the Chinese government, federal prosecutors said.
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Five people acting as agents of the Chinese secret police stalked and harassed American-based Chinese critics of the Beijing government — including a candidate for Congress in New York, a California-based artist, and the father of an Olympic figure skater — in an effort to silence dissident voices, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
In three criminal complaints unsealed Wednesday by the Justice Department, prosecutors described a series of attempts, some lasting years, to spy on or intimidate dozens of Chinese American dissidents and others living all over the United States.
Three of the accused agents lived in Long Island or Queens — their activities centered on New York City, but some extended to other states. The three were arrested this week and appeared in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday evening, while two other defendants remain at large in China, prosecutors said.
The allegations show the extent to which U.S. officials believe Chinese spy agencies will go to retrieve information about critics of the government. In one of the cases, prosecutors accused a prominent Queens-based democracy activist of working secretly as a Chinese spy for more than 15 years.
The charges are the latest in a series of Justice Department cases that center on efforts by the Chinese government to infiltrate the United States and monitor and harass individuals or communities that are considered political opponents of China.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon announcing the charges, Matthew G. Olsen, the assistant attorney general for national security, blamed “an overall rise in authoritarianism around the world” for what he described as an uptick in cases related to the intrusions of foreign state actors inside the U.S.
“This activity is antithetical to fundamental American values,” Mr. Olsen said. “We will not tolerate such repression here when it violates our laws. We will defend the rights of Americans and those who come to live and work and study in the United States.”
U.S.-China relations, which have grown increasingly adversarial in recent years, are particularly strained at the moment because of China’s strong bond with Russia. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Biden administration officials pleaded with China to dissuade Russia from the invasion — but the U.S. efforts were rebuffed, The Times reported last month.
The three cases unsealed Wednesday detailed separate schemes, each involving people identified by U.S. authorities as agents from China’s Ministry of State Security, a civilian intelligence and secret police unit.
In the case involving the congressional candidate, prosecutors said Qiming Lin — identified in the court filings as a member of the Chinese security apparatus who is based in China — tried to gather damaging information on a naturalized U.S. citizen who had been a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The candidate was not named in the complaint, but matches the description of Yan Xiong, who last fall announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives in New York. A person familiar with the cases confirmed Mr. Yan’s identity. Mr. Yan served in the U.S. military and has taken part in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors say that Mr. Lin engaged a private investigator last fall to dig up — or, failing that, to manufacture — compromising information about Mr. Yan, such as an affair or unpaid taxes, ahead of the June primary.
The private investigator, however, was an F.B.I. source and, according to the complaint, kept the authorities apprised of the efforts. In a voice mail message quoted in the complaint, Mr. Lin suggested that the investigator physically attack Mr. Yan, saying, “beat him until he cannot run for election.”
In an interview, Mr. Yan said he had been unaware of an effort to discredit him, adding, “I appreciate the prosecutors who are trying to protect me.”
Mr. Lin remains at large, the authorities said. He faces two counts related to conspiracy to commit interstate harassment.
In another case, prosecutors accused Shujun Wang — a Queens-based scholar and naturalized U.S. citizen — of working secretly for at least 15 years under the direction and control of Chinese state security officers. Prosecutors said Mr. Wang had worked as a mole within a pro-democracy organization that he helped found to promote the work of former reformist members of the Chinese Communist Party.
The organization, identified in the complaint as the Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang Memorial Foundation, was entangled in another criminal case this week. On Monday, Mr. Wang’s co-founder, Jim Li — a Tiananmen Square activist who emigrated to the United States after being held in a Chinese prison — was fatally stabbed in his law office in Queens.
His assailant has been identified by police and witnesses as a young Chinese woman, Xiaoning Zhang, who — according to a colleague of Mr. Li’s — draped a Chinese flag on a chair in Mr. Li’s office before attacking him.
Two people with knowledge of the cases said they did not appear to be connected; a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment.
Prosecutors said Mr. Wang, 73, used his connections in the Chinese diaspora community, including his work at the foundation, to gather information about dissidents — Uyghur and Tibetan activists, supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, advocates for Taiwanese independence and others — which he shared with his Chinese handlers.
At least one Hong Kong democracy activist about whom Mr. Wang reported to his handlers was subsequently arrested by Chinese authorities, according to the complaint. Mr. Wang told his handlers about his meetings and conversations with the dissident, who was identified in the complaint as a human rights lawyer and former member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
Mr. Wang was arrested Wednesday and is charged with acting as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government and with making false statements to law enforcement in 2017 and 2019 interviews, among other counts.
Mr. Wang was released on a $300,000 bond Wednesday. A lawyer for Mr. Wang did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The third case centers on two Long Island residents whom prosecutors say were operating as unregistered agents of a foreign government, under the direction of a Chinese businessman who served as an intermediary for the Chinese government.
Fan “Frank” Liu, the president of what prosecutors described as a “purported media organization,” and Matthew Ziburis, a former Florida correctional officer working as a bodyguard, are accused of trying to discredit or gather intelligence on dissidents in New York, California and Indiana.
Both were arrested on Tuesday and made their first appearances in federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Liu was released on a $1 million bond with electronic monitoring, with restricted travel.
The businessman, Qiang “Jason” Sun, was identified in the complaint as a China-based employee of an unnamed international technology company that is based in China. He remains at large, prosecutors said.
Mr. Liu’s efforts, as outlined in the complaint, included paying a private investigator to bribe an Internal Revenue Service employee for the tax return of a Chinese dissident artist based in Southern California.
The investigator was cooperating with the F.B.I., and no bribe was paid, according to the complaint. In recorded conversations with the investigator, Mr. Liu said he was working for Mr. Sun — whom he called “Boss” — and his company.
Mr. Liu and Mr. Ziburis also targeted the dissident artist directly, according to the complaint, by having Mr. Ziburis pose as an art dealer to gain more information about his artwork and photograph his home. Mr. Ziburis also put a GPS device on the artist’s car.
The artist is unnamed in the complaint, but it meets the description of Chen Weiming, a Chinese-born sculptor known for his political activism and artistic protests against the Chinese government.
In the spring of 2021, one of Mr. Chen’s installations in California — which depicted Chinese President Xi Jinping as a coronavirus molecule — was destroyed by vandalism. The complaint quotes communications in which Mr. Sun, the businessman, encouraged Mr. Liu to have Mr. Ziburis destroy the sculpture, saying: “Destroy all sculptures and things that are not good to our leaders.”
However, the complaint notes, Mr. Liu and Mr. Ziburis were in New York City at the time the sculpture was destroyed.
Prosecutors also said that in late 2021 Mr. Ziburis posed as a member of an international sports committee to gain access to a California-based dissident’s home. That dissident, a person familiar with the case said, is Bay Area lawyer Arthur Liu, the father of U.S. figure skater Alysa Liu.
In a November 2021 report to Mr. Liu quoted in the complaint, Mr. Ziburis described going to Arthur Liu’s house in the Bay Area, and asked to check the family’s passports to ensure he and an unnamed family member were set for international travel. He described Mr. Liu growing angry and telling him to leave.
Prosecutors note that the F.B.I. said there was no evidence that Mr. Ziburis actually spoke with Mr. Liu, who was away from home on the date of the supposed encounter.
Aishvarya Kavi, Jonah E. Bromwich and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.
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