Reuters, WASHINGTON, March 16 – Chinese government agents were accused by US federal prosecutors on Wednesday of attempting to spy on and intimidate dissidents in the United States, including a congressional candidate.
Officials from the Justice Department said the three criminal prosecutions amounted to “transnational repression” by an authoritarian government, with one dissident being assaulted.
“These cases show how the People’s Republic of China tries to stalk, threaten, and silence people who oppose them,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said at a press briefing.
Federal prosecutors said a Chinese government agent approached a U.S. private investigator in one of the cases to assist fabricate a political crisis that would destabilise a government China-born man seeking the Democratic nomination to run for a New York seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to prosecutors, the Chinese agent suggested that the private investigator consider physically harming the candidate to prevent him from running for office.
“You can start thinking about what other plans there are today, away from violence,” the Chinese agent allegedly added. “However, violence would be acceptable in the end. Huh? Defeat him till he is unable to run for office.”
The candidate was not recognised in court records, but he or she fits the profile of Xiong Yan, a Democratic contender for a House seat representing the eastern half of Long Island in New York. Lee Zeldin, a Republican, currently holds the seat, but opted to run for governor rather than seek reelection.
A request for comment from Yan went unanswered.
Prosecutors claimed Frank Liu, a Long Island resident, asked a private investigator about completing due diligence on two Chinese-born dissidents living in the United States. Liu was charged with conspiring to act as a foreign government’s agent in the United States.
Liu’s lawyer, Edgar Frankbonner, claimed Liu is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the United States for 38 years at his initial appearance in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon. He claimed there was no proof Liu had recently communicated with Chinese officials.
“I understand it, but I deny all the allegations,” Liu said through an interpreter when asked if he understood the charges by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cho.
Cho imposed a $1 million bond on Liu, with the stipulation that he not visit the Chinese consulate in New York.
In a separate case, Chinese government operatives are suspected of snooping on a California-based artist by placing surveillance equipment in his office and car. The agents are also accused of destroying the artist’s work, which was created by a Chinese national living in Los Angeles.
A request for comment from the Chinese embassy in Washington was not returned.
“These charges demonstrate that the DOJ continues to prioritise election meddling and malign foreign influence,” said Brandon Van Grack, a former Justice Department lawyer now at Morrison & Foerster who is not involved in the prosecutions.
Last year, the US sanctioned Russia for allegedly attempting to sway the 2020 presidential race, which Russia denies.
The Justice Department halted a programme aimed at combating Chinese espionage and intellectual property theft at colleges last month, instead focusing on risks from a broader range of adversaries.
Critics have said that the project, which was implemented during former President Donald Trump’s administration, amounted to racial profiling and generated a fear culture that has hampered scientific research.