The Justice Department announced charges Monday against six Chinese citizens, including five alleged spies, accused of working on behalf of the Chinese government to recruit US citizens as sources and undermine the federal prosecution against a major Chinese company.
According to charging documents, the Chinese telecommunications company was facing federal prosecution in Brooklyn, New York. Though the indictment does not name the company, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to CNN that the company is Huawei.
The announcements highlights the department’s increased efforts to crack down on Chinese spies working on American soil to undermine the interests of the US government, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news conference Monday.
“As these cases demonstrate, the government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights,” Garland said. “They did not succeed.”
Two of the alleged spies, Gouchun He and Zheng Wan, were accused of interfering with a federal prosecution against global telecommunications company Huawei. The two have not been arrested.
They allegedly cultivated a relationship with a law enforcement official involved in the case beginning in 2017. He and Wang believed they had recruited the official as a Chinese asset, according to charging documents, but the US official was working as a “double agent” under FBI supervision, maintaining their allegiance to the US.
When the investigation into Huawei began, the two allegedly asked the official for information about witnesses, trial evidence, and new charges that could be levied against Huawei. In exchange, the US official was given thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry, prosecutors say.
He and Wang have continued to pay the US official for information, according to court documents, sending thousands of dollars in Bitcoin payments as recently as last week.
As the Huawei investigation progressed, He and Wang allegedly increased their efforts to interfere in the prosecution against Huawei. According to charging documents, He and Wang asked the law enforcement officials to tape prosecutors during trial strategy meetings so that they could share non-public 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 allegedly paid $41,000 for the document.
In a separate scheme, prosecutors allege that four Chinese nationals engaged in a decade-long scheme to recruit individuals in the US to work as assets to the Chinese government and relay information that they deemed helpful to China’s intelligence objectives.
According to the indictment, the defendants – some of whom were Chinese intelligence officers – worked under the cover of a fake think tank to try and recruit Americans, including university professors, a former federal law enforcement and state homeland security official. The defendants tried to bribe their targets with lavish gifts, prosecutors allege, including with an all-expense paid trip to China.
The four defendants hoped to obtain technology and equipment to send back to China, according to the indictment. The defendants also allegedly hoped to stop protests in the US that the Chinese government saw as 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 news release that the men are residents of China, and it is not clear whether they have been arrested.
Monday’s announcements come after news that last week the DOJ unsealed an indictment outlining 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 who still lived in China, with harm, including incarceration.
The case is related to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, 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 amounts of money.
Two of the defendants in that case have been arrested. A common thread in many of these cases is that the 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.