Sunday, 28 May 2023

F.B.I. Arrests Two on Charges Tied to Chinese Police Outpost in New York

Two men were arrested early Monday on federal charges accusing them of conspiring to act as agents of the People’s Republic of China in connection with a police outpost operated in Manhattan’s Chinatown, officials announced in a news conference.

The outpost, which court papers say was operated by Chinese security officials, is one of more than 100 Chinese police operations around the world that have unnerved diplomats and intelligence officials. The case represents the first time criminal charges have been brought in connection with such a police outpost, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The charges against the men, Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, grew out of an investigation by the F.B.I. and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn into the Chinatown outpost, which conducted police operations without jurisdiction or diplomatic approval.

“Today’s charges are a crystal clear response to the P.R.C. that we are on to you, we know what you’re doing and we will stop it from happening in the United States of America,” Breon S. Peace, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said in announcing the charges with other officials. “We don’t need or want a secret police station in our great city,” he added.

Last fall, F.B.I. counterintelligence agents searched the outpost’s offices, located on the third floor of a nondescript building at 107 East Broadway, indicating an escalation in the global dispute over China’s efforts to police its diaspora far beyond its borders.

Officials in Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands have called on China to shut down similar operations in their countries. The F.B.I. raid in New York was the first known example of authorities seizing materials from one of the outposts.

It could not be immediately determined whether the men had lawyers. Mr. Lu, who is also known as Harry Lu, lives in the Bronx and maintains a residence in China. Mr. Chen lives in Manhattan. Both men are U.S. citizens.

In 2018 IRS filings, Mr. Lu was listed as the president of a nonprofit organization called the America Changle Association NY, whose offices housed the police outpost. A criminal complaint unsealed Monday said the group was formed in 2013 and lists its charitable mission as a “social gathering place” for people from the Chinese city of Fuzhou. The complaint says Mr. Lu serves as the association’s general adviser and Mr. Chen as its secretary general.

The two men were charged with obstruction of justice and accused of destroying text messages between themselves and their handler at China’s Ministry of Public Security in October 2022, around the time of the F.B.I. search, as well as conspiring to act as agents of the People’s Republic of China without registering with the Justice Department, as the law requires.

The charges were announced later Monday at a news conference in Brooklyn by Mr. Peace; the F.B.I. assistant director who leads the New York office, Michael Driscoll; and the Justice Department’s top national security official in Washington, David Newman.

The complaint accuses the men of assisting the Chinese government. Since 2015, according to the charges, Mr. Lu participated in counter-protests in Washington, D.C., against members of the Falun Gong, a religion prohibited under Chinese law.

More recently, the complaint says, they have helped operate the police outpost for the Fuzhou Municipal Security Bureau, a branch of the nation’s Ministry of Public Security, the nation’s intelligence, security and secret police.

When news of the search in Lower Manhattan was first reported in January, the Chinese Embassy in Washington downplayed the role of the outposts, saying they were staffed by volunteers who helped Chinese nationals perform routine tasks like renewing their driver’s licenses back home.

But The New York Times reviewed Chinese state news media reports in which the police and local Chinese officials described the operations very differently.

The officials, cited by name, trumpeted the effectiveness of the offices, frequently referred to as overseas police service centers. In some of the reports, the outposts were described as “collecting intelligence” and solving crimes abroad without the involvement of local officials.

Those public statements left it murky who exactly was running the offices. In some instances, they were described as being led by volunteers; in others, by staff members.

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