Complaints were unsealed today in federal court charging five defendants 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, New York, and elsewhere in the United States.
|Public Domain: Byron E. Schumaker, ca. 1935-, Photographer (NARA record: 8451340) - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration|
This comes on the heels of the FBI and CISA issuing a warning titled: Mitigating Threats Posed by Russian State-Sponsored Cyber Actors’ Exploitation of Default Multifactor Authentication Protocol and “PrintNightmare” Vulnerability encouraging all organizations to take enable, enforce, and properly configure MFA as well as prioritize patching of known exploited vulnerabilities.
The defendants participated in transnational repression schemes to silence critics of of China residing in the United States and abroad, including by attempting to disrupt the campaign of a U.S. Military Veteran and Candidate for U.S. Congress in Brooklyn who expressed views critical of the PRC and by scheming to destroy a PRC dissident’s artwork criticizing the PRC government
Fan “Frank” Liu and Matthew Ziburis were arrested yesterday in the Eastern District of New York, while Shujun Wang was arrested this morning in the Eastern District of New York. Their initial appearances are scheduled this afternoon in Brooklyn before U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Cho. The other two defendants remain at large.
According to court documents, all the defendants allegedly perpetrated transnational repression schemes to target U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disfavored by the PRC government, such as advocating for 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 that was critical of the PRC government, and planted surveillance equipment in the artist’s workplace and car to spy on him from the PRC.
Qiming Lin, 59, of the PRC, is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment. As alleged, Lin 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 and political security.
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, including by physically attacking the victim. The victim was a student leader of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989, who later escaped to the United States, served in the U.S. military, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In September 2021, the victim, 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. Whatever price is fine. As long as you can do it.” He also promised that “we will have a lot more-more of this work in the future…Including right now a New York State legislator.” Lin explained to the PI that Lin was working with other unidentified individuals in the PRC to stop the victim from being elected to U.S. Congress.
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 ” That request referred to an incident in Beijing in which the Pianist was reportedly detained after allegedly being found in the company of a prostitute. Lin later reiterated that, if the PI could not uncover a scandal, then “can they create some?” Lin also encouraged the PI to “go find a girl… Or see how he goes for prostitution, take some photos, something of that nature.” 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. Heh, that’s the-the last resort. You-you think about it. Car accident, [he] will be completely wrecked [chuckles], right? Don’t know, eh, whatever ways from all different angles. Or, on the day of the election, he cannot make it there himself, right?"
Shujun Wang, 73, of Queens, New York, 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 transnational repression scheme orchestrated by the MSS. As alleged, Wang 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 on 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.
The complaint also alleges that, during an interview in Queens on Aug. 2, 2017, Wang lied to federal law enforcement, falsely denying that he had contacts with PRC officials or the MSS when in fact he had been secretly reporting on U.S. residents to the MSS. Wang later admitted much of his criminal conduct to an undercover member of law enforcement and during a subsequent interview with agents.
Wang was arrested this morning in the Eastern District of New York and is scheduled to make his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Cho.
Fan “Frank” Liu, 62, of Long Island, New York, and Matthew Ziburis, 49, of Oyster Bay New York, are charged with conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government. Liu, Ziburis and co-defendant Quiang “Jason” Sun, 40, of the PRC, 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 is president of a purported media company based in New York City, while Ziburis 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.
As part of their efforts, the defendants electronically allegedly spied on the pro-democracy activists. The defendants also planned to interview the dissidents in mock media sessions, using the cover of Liu’s purported media organizations. Sun provided outlines for these fake interviews and designed questions to elicit answers that were intended to humiliate or discredit the dissidents. The defendants intended that audio or video clips of these statements could be used in PRC propaganda materials targeting the dissidents.
Liu and Ziburis were arrested yesterday in the Eastern District of New York and are scheduled to make their initial appearances this afternoon in Brooklyn before U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Cho. Sun remains at large.