BROOKLYN (CN) — Five men teamed up with Chinese intelligence agents to harass U.S.-based critics of the country, including planning to ruin a congressional candidate’s campaign and destroy political artwork, federal officials said Wednesday.
Prosecutors unsealed three criminal complaints in the Eastern District of New York that involve stalking, harassing and spying on U.S. residents.
In one case, the target was a Long Island man running in the November 2022 election who previously served in the U.S. military and, as a student, was part of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. He became a U.S. citizen after escaping from China, government officials said.
Qiming Lin, working on behalf of the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of State Security, hired a private investigator to find dirt on the congressional candidate and undermine him.
“Go deep and dig up something,” Lin, 59, said in a voicemail quoted in the complaint against him. “For example, past incidents of tax evasion. For example, if he used prostitutes in the past. For example, if he had a mistress.”
The threats even extended to physical violence, prosecutors say, citing another voicemail: “But in the end, violence would be fine too. Huh? Beat him [chuckles], beat him until he cannot run for election. Heh, that’s the-the last resort. You-you think about it. Car accident, [he] will be completely wrecked [chuckles], right?”
A separate complaint charges Shujung Wang, who started a pro-democracy group in Queens, with using his position to spy on embers of the so-called “five poisons” threatening the Communist Party rule in China: members of the Chinese democracy movement, Tibetan independence supporters, Uyghur supporters of East Turkestan independence, adherents of the Falun Gong, and advocates for Taiwan independence.
Wang, 73, sent "diaries" of information to Chinese intelligence officials, and at least one Hong Kong democracy activist was later arrested, according to the U.S. government’s complaint.
The third complaint accuses three men of planning to destroy a Los Angeles artist’s sculpture depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping as a coronavirus particle, and — by posing as an art dealer — planting surveillance equipment in the artist’s studio and car. The trio also allegedly tried to bribe IRS agents to get information from the artist’s tax returns.
In the spring of 2021, security cameras were dismantled and the sculpture was vandalized and ultimately burned to the ground.
Fan “Frank” Liu, 62; Matthew Ziburis, 49; and Qiang “Jason” Sun, 40, appeared in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday. The remaining two defendants are at large.
“All of these victims were targeted because of their pro-democracy views, because they chose to exercise their freedom of speech here in the United States,” Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said at a press conference Wednesday.
Peace detailed the allegations against the five defendants. FBI officials said the charges are part of a greater effort to stop authoritarian foreign governments from silencing the speech of their dissidents.
“We will not tolerate such repression here when it violates our laws,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Matthew Olsen said at a press conference Wednesday. “We will defend the rights of Americans and those who come to live and work and study in the United States.”
Federal officials said the charges are unrelated to Operation Fox Hunt, which charged five people including two American citizens with conspiring to help the Chinese government stalk, threaten and extradite a New Jersey resident.