The Justice Department on Monday announced charges against six Chinese nationals, including five spies, accused of working on behalf of the Chinese government to enlist US citizens as evidence and undermine a federal case against a major Chinese company.
According to Billing documents, the Chinese telecommunications company faced a federal lawsuit in Brooklyn, New York. While the company was not named in the indictment, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to CNN that the company is Huawei.
The announcements highlight 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 at a press conference on Monday.
“As these cases demonstrate, China’s government has 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 didn’t win.”
Two spies, Gouchun He and Zheng Wan, were charged with allegedly interfering in a federal prosecution against global telecommunications giant Huawei. Neither was arrested.
They reportedly developed a relationship with a law enforcement official involved in the case in early 2017. He was also believed to have recruited the purchasing official as a Chinese asset, according to charging documents, but the American official was working as a “double agent.” FBI supervision, maintaining their loyalty to the US.
When the investigation into Huawei began, the two reportedly asked the official for information about witnesses, investigative evidence and new charges against Huawei. In exchange, prosecutors say, the US official was given thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry.
According to court documents, he also continued to make payments to the buying US official, sending thousands of dollars in bitcoin payments until last week.
As the Huawei investigation progressed, he also reportedly ramped up efforts to intervene in the case against buyout Huawei. According to charging documents, he also asked law enforcement officials to tape the lawyers during investigative strategy meetings so they could share non-public information with Huawei.
According to the indictment, the U.S. official gave the two alleged Chinese spies a photo of a single-page document with a fake “classified” identifier related to the case. A US official was reportedly paid $41,000 for the document.
In a separate project, Prosecutors allege the four are Chinese nationals Engaged in a decade-long scheme to recruit individuals in the United States to work as assets for the Chinese government, releasing information they deemed helpful to China’s intelligence objectives.
According to the indictment, the defendants — some of whom were Chinese intelligence officials — worked under the cover of a fake think tank to recruit Americans, including university professors, a former federal law enforcement officer and a state Homeland Security official. The defendants tried to bribe their targets with lavish gifts, prosecutors allege, including an all-expenses-paid trip to China.
The four defendants hoped to obtain technology and equipment to send back to China, the indictment said. The accused are also said to be hoping to stop protests in the US, which the Chinese government finds embarrassing.
Each of the four is charged with conspiring to act in the United States as agents of a foreign government. The department said in a news release that they were residents of China and it was unclear if they had been arrested.
Monday’s announcements come on the heels of last week’s news that the DOJ had unsealed one Accusation Outlines a conspiracy to intimidate a US resident into returning to China to face criminal charges.
According to the indictment, the seven Chinese nationals threatened harm, including imprisonment, to a New York resident and his family, including family members still living in China.
The case concerns the ruling Chinese Communist Party Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives. The Chinese government launched Operation Foxhunt in 2014, targeting wealthy citizens accused of corruption and fleeing the country with large amounts of cash.
Two accused have been arrested in this case. A common thread in many of these cases is that Chinese citizens facing US charges live overseas and are unlikely to face trial in federal courts.
This story has been updated with additional details.