WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials on Monday unveiled charges against 13 Chinese agents involved in three separate influence campaigns, including two intelligence agents charged in a brazen attempt to obstruct a federal criminal investigation into the telecommunications company Chinese Huawei.
The obstruction case, federal authorities said, represented a startling attempt to intervene in the US criminal justice system in which the suspects, Dong He, also known as Guochun He, and Zheng Wang, also known as under the name Zen Wang, allegedly led an effort to steal files. and other information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York, related to the ongoing federal criminal investigation and prosecution of Huawei.
The company’s identity was not included in court documents, but a person familiar with the matter confirmed that it was Huawei.
The suspects, who are still at large, allegedly paid a bribe of $41,000 in bitcoins to a US government employee, who was actually working as a double agent for the FBI.
“Defendants believed they recruited the US government employee as an asset,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “But in fact, the individual they recruited was actually a double agent, working for the FBI.”
The other two cases involved efforts to force the repatriation of a Chinese national living in the United States and a long-running Chinese intelligence operation to recruit American residents to act as agents for China.
“Each of these cases lays bare the flagrant violation of international law by the Chinese government as it strives to project its authoritarian vision around the world,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “They try to silence anyone who retaliates against their theft – businesses, politicians, individuals. Just as they try to silence anyone who retaliates against their other assaults.”
Wray called the obstruction case “yet another example … of underhandedly aiding one of their companies accused of violating our intellectual property laws – and denying justice to the victims of that company.”
In the alleged repatriation effort, an unsealed eight-count indictment in Brooklyn charged seven suspects, two of whom were arrested by federal authorities Oct. 20 in New York, with surveilling a resident American while engaging in a campaign of harassment to force their target to return to the PRC as part of an international extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt”.
The main defendant, Quanzhong An, a majority owner of a hotel in Queens, was allegedly acting under the direction of China’s Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection, federal authorities said.
In New Jersey, four Chinese nationals, including three intelligence officers from the Department of State Security, were charged with attempting to target and recruit individuals to act on behalf of China in the 2008 United States to 2018.
The group asked university professors, former law enforcement officers and homeland security officials for information, equipment and assistance from the Chinese government in ways that would further the intelligence objectives of China, according to the government. In exchange, the defendants allegedly offered paid trips to China, federal officials said.
“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 legal system that protects those rights. They weren’t successful,” Garland said. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate any attempt by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based.”
In the obstruction case, the two accused Chinese agents allegedly made contact with the FBI double agent in September 2021, seeking information about evidence gathered as part of the Brooklyn federal investigation into the Chinese telecommunications company .
“The defendants said they were particularly interested in knowing which (company) employees were questioned by the government and in getting a description of the prosecutors’ evidence, witness list and trial strategy,” according to court documents.
The following month, the agent allegedly sent the suspects what was believed to be a classified strategy memorandum related to the company’s case. The document had been prepared to advance the investigation and did not include the government’s actual strategy in the case.
“The double agent provided the defendants with documents that appeared to present some of the information they were looking for,” Garland said. “In fact, the documents were prepared by the United States government for the purposes of this investigation and did not reveal any actual meetings, communications, or strategies. This was a blatant attempt by the intelligence agents of the PRC to protect a PRC-based company from liability and undermine the integrity of our judicial system.”