Two suspected Chinese intelligence officers have been charged with obstructing a US criminal investigation into Chinese tech giant Huawei by offering bribes to someone they believed might provide inside information, the Justice Department said Monday.
The defendants are charged with paying tens of thousands of dollars in digital currency, along with cash and jewelry, to a US official they believed to have recruited as an asset. But the person was actually a double agent working for the FBI, the department said.
That prosecution, as well as two other cases involving Chinese agents, was highlighted Monday during a news conference with the heads of both the FBI and the Justice Department, a rare joint presence that reflected a common American display of violence against Chinese intelligence efforts.
Washington has long accused Beijing of meddling in American political affairs and stealing secrets and intellectual property.
In addition to Monday’s two men, 11 other Chinese men have been charged with crimes over the past week, including harassment of individuals in the US, which, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray, demonstrate that China’s “economic attacks and their rights violations are part of the same problem.” .”
“They are trying to silence anyone who is fighting back against their theft – corporations, politicians, individuals – just as they are trying to silence anyone who is fighting back against their other forms of aggression,” he said.
In the Huawei case, Guochun He and Zheng Wang are accused of trying to order a US official to provide confidential information about the Justice Department’s investigation, including witnesses, evidence and possible new charges.
The latest announcements came just days after Xi Jinping awarded himself a third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party, although Wray dismissed the idea of a possible timing connection, noting “we’ll bring things in when they’re ready.”
“If the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, continues to violate our laws, they will continue to run into the FBI,” he said.
The Justice Ministry separately announced charges against four other Chinese nationals, accusing them of using the cover of an academic institution to try to obtain sensitive technology and equipment, and of disrupting protests that “would have been embarrassing to the Chinese government”.
And it highlighted a case last week in which two additional people were arrested and five others charged with harassing someone living in the US to return to China as part of what Beijing calls “Operation Fox Hunt.”
“Today’s cases make it clear that Chinese agents will not hesitate to break the law and violate international standards in the process,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.
The case related to the Huawei probe dates back to January 2019. The company, a chief executive and several subsidiaries had just been indicted on US charges of financial fraud, theft of trade secrets and violations of sanctions.
Wang and He were eager for nonpublic information about the prosecution and the status of the investigation, according to prosecutors.
They reached out to a contact they had known since 2017, but the person — who was not identified by name — began working as a double agent, conducting a back-and-forth with the defendants under FBI supervision.
At some point last year, prosecutors say, the person gave the defendants a one-page document that appeared to have been classified and contained information about a so-called Justice Ministry plan to kill Huawei executives living in China. to charge and arrest.
The person said the document was secretly photographed during a meeting with federal prosecutors.
The document was prepared specifically for the prosecution opened Monday, and the information contained in it was neither accurate nor an accurate reflection of the Justice Department’s plans, officials said.
The company is not named in the indictment documents and prosecutors declined to name it at Monday’s press conference, although the references make it clear that it is Huawei.
Spokespersons for Huawei and the Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately return messages asking for comment. Huawei previously called the federal investigation “political prosecution, clear and simple”.
“Attacking Huawei will not help the US stay ahead of the competition,” the company said in a statement released in 2020.
In the case linked to “Operation Fox Hunt,” prosecutors say Chinese agents attempted to intimidate an unnamed person and his family into returning to China. Part of the plot, the US claims, involved the person’s cousin traveling to the US as part of a tour group to make threats, including, “Coming back and turning yourself in is the only way out.”