U.S. authorities have arrested two Chinese government spies on suspicion of involvement in an alleged Beijing plot to disrupt and ultimately overthrow the anti-communist Falun Gong spiritual movement. exile.
John Chen and Lin Feng were charged in an unsealed indictment Friday with conspiracy to strip a New York-based Falun Gong organization of tax-exempt status and bribe a police officer. secret agents posing as US tax agents.
Prosecutors said the undercover officer recorded numerous conversations with Chen, and investigators obtained a wiretap of phone calls in which Chen and Feng discussed instructions that were not they received from Chinese government officials.
In one recording, prosecutors said, Chen referred to Chinese government officials as “blood brothers” and in another, he said Beijing would be “very generous” in the process. rewarding undercover officials’ help in cracking down on Falun Gong’s non-profit status.
Chen, a 70-year-old U.S. citizen, and Feng, a 43-year-old lawful permanent resident, were charged with acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, bribing a state official, and conspiracy to commit international money laundering.
Chen and Feng were both born in China but now live in the Los Angeles area, where they were arrested Friday. Information about first court appearances or who can speak on their behalf is not immediately available.
Messages seeking comment have been left for the Chinese Embassy in Washington and for the Falun Gong movement.
China banned the Falun Gong movement in 1999, considering it a cult and one of the “Five Poisons,” or major threats to its rule. Since then, Falun Gong practitioners have sought refuge in a 400-acre property called Dragon Springs in upstate New York.
In the United States, the Falun Gong movement is primarily known for its relationships with Shen Yun, a touring art troupe, and The Epoch Times, a newspaper marketed as an alternative to traditional media. Traditional US media has also been criticized for amplifying disinformation. and conspiracy theories.
The Justice Department has launched a series of prosecutions in recent years aimed at thwarting China’s efforts in the United States to identify, locate, and silence pro-democracy activists and others. openly criticize Beijing’s policies. Such activities by foreign governments are known as “transnational repression.”
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement: “The Chinese government has again tried and failed to target critics in the United States.”
Garland added that the United States would “continue to investigate, prevent, and prosecute” China’s efforts to “silence its critics and expand the reach of the regime on American soil.”
In seeking to undermine Falun Gong, federal prosecutors allege, Chen and Feng urged the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the organization’s nonprofit tax status. In a complaint filed with tax authorities in February, Chen described Falun Gong as a “huge giant sect” — echoing the language the Chinese government uses to describe the movement.
Chen and Feng then turned to the undercover officer to make sure the IRS acted on the complaint, offering a reward of $50,000 — and a cash award of $5,000 as an upfront payment — if the tax authorities moved forward. audit, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Chen met the official at a restaurant in upstate New York City on May 14. Prosecutors said a few days later, the official sent Chen a letter on the internet. The IRS’s fake letterhead said that the agency had opened a case about Falun Gong. Prosecutors said Chen passed the information to Feng in an wiretapped phone conversation, suggesting that he was planning to update Chinese government officials on their progress.
Chen and Feng’s arrests come a month after the Justice Department charged two men with setting up a secret police station in New York City on behalf of the Chinese government. Around the same time, federal prosecutors charged about three dozen officers with China’s national police force with using social media to harass dissidents. in the United States
In 2020, the Justice Department charged more than half a dozen people working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign to force a New Jersey man wanted by Beijing to return to China to face charges.
Associated Press correspondent Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.