The FBI and federal prosecutors announced Monday the arrests of two New York residents who allegedly ran an undisclosed Chinese government police station in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood.
Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping have each been charged with conspiring to act as agents of China’s government, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for that office, said China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) “has repeatedly and flagrantly violated our nation’s sovereignty, including by opening and operating a police station in the middle of New York City.”
“Two miles from our office, just across the Brooklyn Bridge, this nondescript office building in the heart of bustling Chinatown in Lower Manhattan has a dark secret. Until several months ago, an entire floor of this building hosted an undeclared police station of the Chinese National Police,” Peace said. “Now, just imagine the NYPD opening an undeclared secret police station in Beijing. It would be unthinkable.”
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“Here’s what we know happened inside the secret police station in Lower Manhattan. At the very least, the station was providing some government services, like helping Chinese citizens renew their Chinese driver’s licenses,” Peace continued. “But to do even that, the law requires that individuals like the defendants who act as agents of a foreign government give prior notice to the attorney general before setting up shop in New York City. That didn’t happen.”
“More troubling, though, is the fact that the secret police station appears to have had a more sinister use on at least one occasion,” Peace added. “An official with the Chinese National Police directed one of the defendants – a U.S. citizen who worked at the secret police station – to help locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California. In other words, the Chinese national police appear to have been using the station to track a U.S. resident on U.S. soil.”
“The two defendants whose arrests we’re announcing today destroyed evidence of their communications with the Chinese national police when they learned of the FBI’s investigation,” Peace said. “These two defendants knew they had something to hide, and they obstructed justice in an attempt to prevent the FBI from learning the full extent of what they were up to.”
Peace said his office and the FBI’s New York field office are the “first law enforcement partners in the world to make arrests in connection with the Chinese government’s overseas police stations.”
Both defendants in the case were arrested at their homes in New York City on Monday morning, he said. Both are U.S. citizens. Their first court appearance on the charges took place Monday.
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Michael Driscoll, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said, “Not only was the police station set up on the order of MPS officials, but members of the Chinese consulate in New York even paid a visit to it after it opened.”
Peace said that “before helping to open the police station in early 2022, Lu Jianwang had a longstanding relationship of trust with [Chinese] law enforcement, including the MPS.”
“In 2018, Lu was enlisted in efforts to cause a purported Chinese fugitive to return to China,” Peace continued. “The victim of that effort reported that he was repeatedly harassed to return to China. That victim received threats of violence against his family in the United States, and MPS officers harassed a victim’s family in China.”
The Justice Department earlier described the announcement as a “significant national security matter.”
The defendants are scheduled to appear in court Monday afternoon before a magistrate judge.
“Thanks to our investigation and arrest today with the FBI, the defendants will be held accountable,” Peace said. “And the MPS is on notice that we will not tolerate similar threats to our national sovereignty.”
Peace also announced charges Monday against 34 MPS police officers belonging to a task force called the “912 Special Project Working Group.”
They are accused of conspiracy to transmit interstate threats and conspiracy to commit interstate harassment.
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“This task force isn’t a normal police force. It doesn’t protect people or combat crimes. It commits crimes targeting Chinese democracy activists and dissidents located outside of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including right here in New York City,” he said.
“This task force operates as an Internet troll farm, creating thousands of fake online personas, which they use in a coordinated plot to harass dispatch, reach and threaten dissidents and activists throughout the world,” Peace added. “People who the PRC perceives as threats to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Peace said in one instance, in an online video conference on the topic of countering communism – which was held on a U.S. technology platform – “task force officers flooded the video conference and drowned out the meeting with loud music and vulgar screams and threats directed at Chinese dissidents.”
“In addition to threatening and harassing Chinese dissidents, the MPS officers use their fake online personas to spread official Chinese government propaganda and narratives to counter and overwhelm the dissidents’ pro-democracy speech,” he added, describing that with their exposure, “the world now has a unique, never-before-seen view of how the PRC government deployed this army of Internet trolls.”
The Justice Department also said that in this scheme “on several occasions, the defendants used online personas to contact individuals assessed to be sympathetic and supportive of the PRC government’s narratives and asked these individuals to disseminate group content.”
A third federal criminal complaint unsealed Monday charged an additional 10 people, including a former China-based employee of a U.S. telecommunications company, with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer means of identification.
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“As alleged, Julien Jin and his co-conspirators in the Ministry of Public Security and Cyberspace Administration of China weaponized the U.S. telecommunications company he worked for to intimidate and silence dissenters and enforce PRC law to the detriment of Chinese activists in New York, among other places, who had sought refuge in this country to peacefully express their pro-democracy views,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Pokorny for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.
The complaint, which builds on charges announced by the Justice Department in December 2020, “reveal that Jin worked directly with and took orders from defendants at the MPS and the Cyberspace Administration of China to disrupt meetings on the Company-1 platform and that the co-defendants had targeted U.S.-based dissidents’ speech on Company-1’s platform since 2018.”