By Larry Neumeister and Eric Tucker
Two men were arrested Monday on charges that they helped establish a secret police station in New York City on behalf of the Chinese government, and about three dozen officers with China's national police force were charged with using social media to harass dissidents inside the United States, authorities said Monday.
The cases are part of a series of Justice Department prosecutions in recent years aimed at disrupting Chinese government efforts to locate in America pro-democracy activists and others who are openly critical of Beijing's policies and to suppress their speech.
One of three cases announced Monday concerns a local branch of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security that had operated inside an office building in Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood before closing last fall amid an FBI investigation. The two men who were arrested were acting under the direction and control of a Chinese government official and deleted communication with that official from their phones after learning of the FBI's probe in an apparent effort to obstruct the inquiry, according to the Justice Department.
Though China is believed to be operating secretive police outposts in countries around the globe, Justice Department officials said these arrests were the first of their kind anywhere in the world.
“This is a blatant violation of our national sovereignty,” Michael Driscoll, the head of New York's FBI field office, said at a news conference announcing the cases.
The men, identified as “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan, both U.S. citizens, were arrested at their homes on Monday morning. A lawyer for Lu declined to comment. An email message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for Chen.
At no point did the men register with the Justice Department as agents of a foreign government, U.S. law enforcement officials said. And though the secret police station did perform some basic services, such as helping Chinese citizens renew their Chinese driver's licenses, it also served a more “sinister” function, including helping the Chinese government locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California, officials said.
“New York City is home to New York’s finest: the NYPD," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, whose office brought the cases. "We don’t need or want a secret police station in our great city.”
Justice Department officials in recent years have prioritized prosecutions of what’s known as “transnational repression,” in which foreign governments work to identify, intimidate and silence dissidents in the U.S.
A signature case concerning China was announced in 2020, when the Justice Department charged more than a half-dozen people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges. In January, the Justice Department charged three men in an alleged plot that originated in Iran to kill an I ranian American author and activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses there.
“In America, the law protects all of us equally from persecution, violence and threats of violence," said David Newman, a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division.
“As authoritarian governments — whether the PRC, Russia, Iran, or others — become more brazen in their efforts to trample the rights and liberties that are the bedrock of our democracy, the Department of Justice will redouble its efforts to defend our democracy, our democratic institutions, and our sovereignty,” Newman said, using an acronym for the People's Republic of China.
In a separate scheme announced Monday, the Justice Department charged 34 officers in the Ministry of Public Security with creating and using thousands of fake social media accounts on Twitter and other platforms to harass dissidents abroad.
Prosecutors say the defendants, all part of a specialized task force that worked out of a police facility in Beijing, also used social media to spread Chinese government propaganda on subjects including racial justice protests in the U.S., Russia's war against Ukraine and human rights issues in Hong Kong. All of the defendants remain at large and are believed to be living in China.
In addition, prosecutors on Monday announced that eight Chinese government officials who are believed to be currently living in China were charged with directing an employee of a U.S. telecommunications company to remove Chinese dissidents from the company’s platform.
Jin Xinjiang, also known as Julien Jin, a former China-based Zoom executive, was among 10 people charged in an amended complaint. He was initially charged in December 2020, when authorities alleged that he tried to disrupt a series of Zoom meetings in May and June of that year that were meant to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
At the time, Jin served as Zoom’s primary liaison with Chinese government law enforcement and intelligence services, regularly responding to requests by the Chinese government to terminate meetings and block users on Zoom’s video communications platform, authorities said.
Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan in New York contributed to this report.