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Feds say Huawei probe was at heart of Chinese bribery effort

The government accuses two men of trying to bribe a U.S. government official for intel on the ongoing prosecution of the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Department of Justice brought indictments Monday against Chinese nationals, two of whom are said to be Chinese intelligence officers who paid bribes for information on the status of the Huawei prosecution.

Guochun He, 45, and Zheng Wang, 37, are charged in the Eastern District of New York with plotting to steal documents and other information. The two men allegedly paid about $61,000 in bitcoin to a U.S. government employee they believed to be in the Chinese government's pocket. Speaking about the case and two others Monday at a press conference in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the employee was actually a double agent working for the FBI.

“This was an egregious attempt by PRC intelligence officers to shield a PRC-based company from accountability and to undermine the integrity of our judicial system,” Garland said.

Wang and He are both still at large. While Wang faces up to 20 years in prison if captured and convicted, He faces 60 years due to additional money laundering charges related to the alleged bribery scheme.

References in the charging documents make clear that the Huawei case was the focus of the bribes, but the company is not identified by name. The Department of Justice brought bank fraud against Huawei in 2019 and added new counts a year later for conspiracy under federal anti-racketeering law and a plot to steal trade secrets.

Neither Huawei nor the Chinese Embassy in Washington has commented on the new indictments. Huawei has previously called the federal investigation “political persecution, plain and simple."

“Attacking Huawei will not help the U.S. stay ahead of the competition,” the company said in a 2020 statement.

Garland also spoke Monday about an indictment unsealed in the District of New Jersey, charging four Chinese nationals with a long-running campaign to try to influence people in the U.S. to act as foreign agents for China.

They are accused of acting under the guise of a purported Chinese think tank to target university professors and law enforcement officials by requesting information, materials, equipment and assistance for the Chinese government’s intelligence operations.

A third case that Garland described Monday involves a yearslong harassment campaign to force a U.S. resident to return to China. Two of the seven defendants in this case filed Thursday of last week have already been arrested; the other five remain at large.

Prosecutors say the defendants belonged to “Operation Fox Hunt,” a Chinese government effort to find and repatriate dissident citizens who have left the country.  

The campaign is said to involve years of surveillance, threats and intimidation. Garland described one case in which the Chinese government forced the nephew of a victim to travel from China to the United States to “convey the [People's Republic of China's] threats to the victim’s son.”

“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. They did not succeed,” the attorney general continued. 

Garland was joined Monday by other top Justice Department brass, including Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen.

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