US charges two Chinese citizens with interfering in telecoms case

US accuses alleged Chinese intelligence officers of trying to impede prosecution of Chinese telecommunications firm.

US attorney general merrick garland
'The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law,' US Attorney General Merrick Garland says [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Authorities in the United States have charged two alleged Chinese intelligence officers with attempting to interfere in the prosecution of a major Chinese telecommunications company in the US.

The criminal complaint unsealed on Monday charged He Guochun and Wang Zheng with obstruction of justice and He with money laundering.

The US Justice Department accused the two men, who both remain at large, of paying a US informant $61,000 worth of bitcoin to supply internal documents related to the case against the company.

“Today’s complaint underscores the unrelenting efforts of the [Chinese] government to undermine the rule of law,” Breon Peace, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

The indictment did not name the company, calling it a global telecommunications firm based in China.

However, Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro said that “it has been largely reported that [Huawei] is the company in question”.

“According to the US officials, these two Chinese agents tried to bribe a US law enforcement official into giving up sensitive and secret documents regarding the US’s legal strategy in its prosecution of Huawei,” Zhou-Castro reported from Washington, DC.

A spokesperson for Huawei could not be reached for comment on Monday.

China’s embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Reuters news agency.

“The government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters during a news conference. “They did not succeed.”

“The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based.”

Meanwhile, US federal prosecutors said on Monday that they had charged 11 other Chinese nationals allegedly involved in two other schemes.

A separate indictment also filed in the Eastern District of New York charged seven Chinese citizens, including two who were arrested on October 20, with participating in a plan to forcibly repatriate a Chinese citizen living in the US.

“The defendants are accused of conducting surveillance of and engaging in a campaign to harass and coerce a US resident to return” to China, US officials said.

The third alleged scheme was in New Jersey, where US prosecutors charged four Chinese nationals “in connection with a long-running intelligence campaign” targeting US citizens to act as Chinese government agents.

Three of those charged were alleged intelligence officers from China’s Ministry of State Security, the US Justice Department said.

The US charges are “perhaps meant to send a political message to China”, Zhou-Castro said, pointing out that they had been filed just days after Chinese President Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

US President Joe Biden has continued his predecessor Donald Trump’s policy of treating China as the country’s most important geopolitical rival.

A recently published National Security Strategy by the Biden administration described China as “the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it”.

Ties between Beijing and Washington have soured over numerous points of tension in recent years, including trade issues, the status of Taiwan, claims to the South China Sea and an ongoing US push against growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Huawei was indicted in 2018 for allegedly misleading HSBC and other banks about its business in Iran, which is subject to US sanctions.

In 2020, other charges were added to the case, including conspiring to steal trade secrets from six US technology companies and helping Iran track protesters during anti-government demonstrations in 2009. The firm has pleaded not guilty.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies