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Five accused of spying on pro-democracy Chinese in U.S.

March 16, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
Brooklyn federal court. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Five defendants were charged Wednesday in Brooklyn Federal Court with various crimes related to efforts by the secret police of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to stalk, harass, and spy on Chinese nationals residing in Queens and elsewhere in the United States. 

All of the defendants allegedly perpetrated schemes to target U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disfavored by the PRC government, such as advocating democracy in the PRC. 

In one of these schemes, the co-conspirators sought to interfere with federal elections by allegedly orchestrating a campaign to undermine the U.S. congressional candidacy of a U.S. military veteran who was a leader of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing, PRC. In another of these schemes, three defendants planned to destroy the artwork of a PRC national residing in Los Angeles who is critical of the PRC government, and planted surveillance equipment in the artist’s workplace and car to spy on him. 

Fan “Frank” Liu and Matthew Ziburis were arrested Wednesday, while Shujun Wang was arrested this morning. All three arrests occurred in the Eastern District of New York. The defendants’ initial appearances took place Wednesday afternoon in Brooklyn before United States Magistrate Judge James R. Cho. The other two defendants remain at large. 

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, EDNY. Photo courtesy of U.S. Justice Dept.

United States v. Fan “Frank” Liu, Matthew Ziburis, and Qiang “Jason” Sun 

Liu and Ziburis are charged with conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government. Liu, Ziburis, and Sun are charged with conspiring to commit interstate harassment and criminal use of a means of identification. Liu and Sun are charged with conspiring to bribe a federal official in connection with their scheme to obtain the tax returns of a pro-democracy activist residing in the United States. 

According to the complaint, Liu, a resident of Jericho, Long Island, is president of a purported media company based in New York City, while Ziburis, a resident of Oyster Bay, Long Island, is a former correctional officer for the State of Florida and a bodyguard. Sun is a PRC-based employee of an international technology company. 

According to the complaint, Liu and Ziburis have been operating under Sun’s direction and control to discredit pro-democracy PRC dissidents residing in the United States—including in New York City, California, and Indiana—by spying on them and disseminating negative information about them. For example, at Sun’s direction, Liu paid a private investigator in Queens to bribe an Internal Revenue Service employee to obtain the federal tax returns of one of the dissidents. The private investigator was cooperating with law enforcement, and no Internal Revenue Service employee received a bribe payment. 

The defendants planned to publicly disclose the dissident’s potential tax liabilities to discredit him. The co-conspirators also made plans to destroy the artwork of a dissident artist whose work is critical of the PRC government, and the artist’s sculpture depicting PRC President Xi Jinping as a coronavirus molecule was demolished in the Spring of 2021. 

As part of their efforts, the defendants electronically spied on the pro-democracy activists. For example, posing as an art dealer interested in purchasing the artwork of the dissident artist, Ziburis secretly installed surveillance cameras and GPS devices at the dissident’s workplace and in his car. While in the PRC, Sun watched the live video feed and location data from these devices. The defendants made similar plans to install surveillance equipment at the residences and on the vehicles of two other dissidents. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Cho, EDNY
Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

United States v. Qiming Lin 

Lin is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment, as well as conspiracy, and attempted use of a false means of identification in connection with the interstate harassment conspiracy. 

As alleged, Lin, a citizen and resident of the PRC, works on behalf of the PRC’s ministry of state security (MSS). The MSS is a civilian intelligence and secret police agency responsible for counterintelligence. 

Beginning in September 2021, Lin hired a private investigator (the PI) in New York to disrupt the campaign of a Brooklyn resident currently running for U.S. Congress (the victim), including by physically attacking him. The victim, who press reports have identified as Xiong Yan, was a student leader of the prodemocracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989 who later escaped to the United States. In September 2021, the victim (then living in Long Island) announced his intention to run for a U.S. congressional seat on Long Island in the November 2022 general election. 

In hiring the PI, Lin explained that if the victim was selected during the June 2022 primary election, then he might be “elected to be a legislator. Right now we don’t want him to be elected.” Lin emphasized that “Whatever price is fine. As long as you can do it.” 

As alleged, Lin first asked the PI to provide information about the victim, including the victim’s address and phone number, which the PI later provided. Lin also requested that the PI unearth derogatory information about the victim or, if no such information could be found, “manufacture something, like what happened to [a famous concert pianist]?” 

In December 2021, Lin proposed that the PI also consider physically attacking the victim to prevent his candidacy. In a voice message to the PI, Lin stated: 

“You can start thinking now, aside from violence, what other plans are there? Huh? But in the end, violence would be fine too. Huh? Beat him [chuckles], beat him until he cannot run for election.”

United States v. Shujun Wang 

Wang is charged with acting as an agent of the PRC government, criminal use of means of identification, and making materially false statements, in connection with his participation in a scheme orchestrated by the MSS.  

As alleged, Wang, who lives in Flushing, Queens, is a former visiting scholar and author who helped start a pro-democracy organization in Queens that memorializes two former leaders of the Chinese Communist Party who promoted political and economic reforms within the PRC and were eventually forced from power. Since at least 2015, however, Wang has secretly operated at the direction and control of several MSS officers. 

At the direction of the MSS, Wang used his position and status within Chinese diaspora community in New York City to collect information about prominent activists, dissidents, and human rights leaders to report that information to the PRC government. While ostensibly lending a sympathetic ear, Wang reported on statements activists made in confidence to him, including their views on democracy in the PRC, as well as planned speeches, writings, and demonstrations against the Chinese Communist Party. 

The victims of Wang’s efforts included individuals and groups located in New York City and elsewhere that the PRC considers subversive, such as Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, advocates for Taiwanese independence, and Uyghur and Tibetan activists, both in the United States and abroad. Wang sent email “diaries” to the MSS that contained details of his conversations with prominent dissidents, the activities of pro-democracy activists, as well as relevant phone numbers and other contact information for the targets of the PRC government. 

In April 2020, one victim about whom Wang reported—the Hong Kong democracy activist identified in the complaint as “Hong Kong Dissident #1”—was arrested in Hong Kong and jailed on political charges. In addition, in April 2019, Wang flew from the PRC to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens carrying a handwritten document with the names and non-public contact information for dozens of other well-known PRC dissidents, including other Hong Kong democracy activists who were subsequently arrested by the PRC in 2019 and 2020. 

“The complaints unsealed today reveal the outrageous and dangerous lengths to which the PRC government’s secret police and these defendants have gone to attack the rule of law and freedom in New York City and elsewhere in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, EDNY. “As alleged, all three cases involve campaigns to silence, harass, discredit and spy on U.S. residents for simply exercising their freedom of speech. The United States will not tolerate blatantly illegal actions that target U.S. residents, on U.S. soil, and undermine our treasured American values and rights.”

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