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Five charged with spying on Chinese pro-democracy activists in U.S. for Beijing

March 16 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors in New York on Wednesday charged five people with working on behalf of China's secret police to stalk, harass and spy on Chinese nationals in the United States.

All of the defendants are accused of targeting U.S. residents "whose political views and actions are disfavored by the [People's Republic of China] government, such as advocating for democracy in the PRC," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

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The complaints released Wednesday alleged the defendants sought to undermine the candidacy of a former leader of the pro-democracy demonstration in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, collected information on prominent activists in New York City and plotted to destroy the artwork of a Chinese national living in Los Angeles who was critical of China's government.

"As alleged, all three cases involve campaigns to silence, harass, discredit and spy on U.S. residents for simply exercising their freedom of speech," U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. "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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Qiming Lin is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment as well as conspiracy and attempt to use a means of identification in connection with the harassment conspiracy for allegedly working on behalf of China's Ministry of State Security -- a civilian intelligence and secret police agency -- to disrupt the campaign of a Brooklyn resident running for Congress last September.

The candidate was Yan Xiong, who came to the United States as a political refugee after serving as a leader of the Tiananmen Square protest and then served in the U.S. military and became a naturalized citizen, The Washington Post reported.

Lin is accused of hiring a private investigator to dig up "derogatory information" about Yan to prevent him from getting elected and to "manufacture something" if such information could not be found.

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The suspect allegedly referenced an incident in which a prominent Chinese concert pianist was detained in China after being found in the company of a prostitute and encouraged the investigator to "go find a girl ... Or see how he goes for prostitution, take some photos, something of that nature."

Prosecutors said that Lin also proposed a physical attack on Yan to prevent him from taking part in the June Democratic primary.

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"Beat him, beat him until he cannot run for election," Lin allegedly said in a voice message. "Heh, that's the ... last resort ... Car accident, [he] will be completely wrecked, right? ... Or on the day of the election, he cannot make it there himself right?"

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Shujun Wang was charged with acting as an agent of the Chinese government, criminal use of means of identification and making materially false statements about his participation in a transnational repression scheme for the MSS.

Wang, a former visiting scholar and author, helped to found an organization that memorializes two former leaders of the Chinese Communist Party that were removed from power after working to promote political and economic reforms.

Prosecutors allege, however, that since 2015 he has secretly operated at the direction of the MSS to get activists to confide in him their views on democracy in China as well as planned speeches, writings and demonstrations against the Chinese Communist Party. He would then share this information with the MSS.

In April 2020, a victim Wang reported to the MSS was arrested in Hong Kong and jailed on political charges, and in April 2019, Wang flew from China to New York carrying a handwritten document with the names and non-public contact information of dozens of other activists, prosecutors said.

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

Prosecutors said that Liu, the president of a purported media company in New York City, and Ziburis, a former correctional officer for the State of Florida and bodyguard, worked to discredit pro-democracy activists in New York City, California and Indiana by spying on them and spreading negative information about them.

For example, Liu allegedly paid a private investigator in Queens to bribe an Internal Revenue Service employee to obtain the federal tax returns of an activist with the intent of exposing his potential tax liabilities.

The trio also planned to destroy a sculpture depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping as a coronavirus molecule. The sculpture was demolished in the spring of 2021.

They also electronically spied on activists, with Ziburis posing as an art dealer to install surveillance cameras and GPS devices in an activist's workplace and car, allowing Sun to watch a live video feed and follow location data from China.

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U.S. Magistrate Judge set Liu's bond at $1 million, while also setting a $500,000 bond for Ziburis and a $300,000 bond for Wang.

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