U.S. Federal authorities arrested three people this week on suspicions of spying in America and stalking and harassing Chinese nationals in the U.S. on behalf of a Chinese secret police agency known as the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Another two suspects remain at large.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday cases brought against suspects two Chinese nationals — Qiming Lin and Quiang “Jason” Sun — and three Americans believed to be working on behalf of China —Shujun Wang, Fan “Frank” Liu and Matthew Ziburis. All five are charged as part of two criminal complaints that were unsealed this week and another complaint that was amended.
According to the prosecuting documents, “all the defendants allegedly perpetrated transnational repression schemes to target U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disfavored by the [People’s Republic of China] government, such as advocating for democracy in the PRC.”
“As alleged, all of the defendants charged today at the direction of the PRC secret police, engaged in a series of actions designed to silence the free speech of Chinese dissidents in the United States,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office.
Starting in September of last year, Lin hired a private investigator (PI) to help disrupt a Brooklyn resident running for a U.S. congressional seat, and even asked the PI to physically attack that candidate. The New York Times has since identified the victim as Democrat-congressional candidate Xiong Yan, a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. According to his campaign website, Yan came to the U.S. in 1992 and joined the U.S. Army and served in Iraq.
Lin also requested that the PI “unearth derogatory information about the Victim or, if no such information could be found, ‘manufacture something.'”
Lin is one of two suspects still at large. He is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Wang, a Chinese-American, was the leader of a pro-democracy organization in Queens, New York. While his organization outwardly memorialized two former Chinese officials who promoted political and economic reforms in China, prosecutors allege Wang has been using the organization to keep tabs on Chinese dissidents in New York and informing China since 2015. Wang is charged with acting as an agent of the PRC and lying to federal prosecutors in 2017 about his ties to the Chinese government.
Wang was arrested on Wednesday and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Liu, Ziburis and Sun are all charged together with conspiring to commit interstate harassment. Liu and Sun are also charged with attempting to bribe an IRS employee in an attempt to get their hands on the tax returns of Chinese pro-democracy activists in the U.S.
Liu and Ziburis, who are U.S. citizens, allegedly began operating under the direction of Sun, who is based in China. Liu and Ziburis allegedly worked to discredit Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy activists in New York City, California and Indiana. Sun allegedly directed Liu to pay a private investigator to bribe an IRS employee to turn over federal tax returns of at least one dissident. That private investigator was cooperating with law enforcement throughout the scheme and no bribe went through to an IRS employee. Prosecutors allege the defendants planned to get the tax documents and discredit a dissident with them.
Liu, Ziburis and Sun also allegedly installed surveillance cameras and GPS-tracking devices to spy on a dissident Chinese artist. The three allegedly plotted to destroy a sculpture by that artist, which depicted Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a coronavirus molecule. According to the DoJ, the trio did destroy that statue of Xi. In July, a sculpture of that same description by Chinese-born Weiming Chen was burned down.
Liu and Ziburis were arrested in New York on Tuesday. They each face up to five years in prison for conspiring to commit interstate harassment and up to 15 years in prison for criminal use of a means of identification.
Liu and Sun also face up to five years each for attempting to bribe an IRS agent. Sun remains at large.
“The complaints unsealed today reveal the outrageous and dangerous lengths to which the PRC government’s secret police and these defendants have gone to attack the rule of law and freedom in New York City and elsewhere in the United States,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said Wednesday. “As alleged, all three cases involve campaigns to silence, harass, discredit and spy on U.S. residents for simply exercising their freedom of speech. The United States will not tolerate blatantly illegal actions that target U.S. residents, on U.S. soil, and undermine our treasured American values and rights.”