Chinese officers charged in plot to obstruct US Huawei probe

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Chinese Officers Charged In Plot To Obstruct Us Huawei Probe Chinese Officers Charged In Plot To Obstruct Us Huawei Probe
Justice Department Huawei, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Eric Tucker, Associated Press

Two men suspected of being Chinese intelligence officers have been charged with attempting to obstruct a US criminal investigation and prosecution of Chinese tech giant Huawei.

The two men, Guochun He and Zheng Wang, are accused of trying to direct a person with the US government whom they believed was a cooperator to provide confidential information about the Justice Department’s investigation, including about witnesses, trial evidence and potential new charges.

One of the defendants paid about 61,000 dollars (£54,000) for the information, the Justice Department said.

The department has issued arrest warrants for the pair, but it is not clear whether they will ever be taken into custody.

The cases were announced at a news conference that featured the heads of both the FBI and the Justice Department, a rare joint presence reflecting a concerted American show of force against Chinese intelligence efforts.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke about the charges at a news conference (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via AP/PA)

Washington has long accused Beijing of meddling in US political affairs and stealing secrets and intellectual property.

Attorney General Merrick Garland also announced charges against four other Chinese nationals, accusing them of using the cover of an academic institute to try to procure sensitive technology and equipment as well as interfering with protests that “would have been embarrassing to the Chinese government”.

Two additional people were arrested and five others charged with harassing someone living in the US to return to China as part of what Beijing calls “Operation Fox Hunt”.

“Today’s cases make clear that Chinese agents will not hesitate to break the law and to violate international norms in the process,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.

FBI director Christopher Wray said that China’s “economic assaults and their rights violations are part of the same problem”.

“They try to silence anyone who fights back against their theft — companies, politicians, individuals — just as they try to silence anyone who fights back against their other aggressions,” he said.

Guochun He and Zheng Wang are accused of reaching out to someone who began working as a double agent for the US government, and that person’s contacts with the defendants were overseen by the FBI.

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At one point last year, prosecutors say, the unnamed person passed to the defendants a single-page document that appeared to be classified as secret and that contained information about a purported plan to charge and arrest Huawei executives in the US.

But the document was actually prepared by the government for the purposes of the prosecution that was unsealed on Monday, and the information in it was not accurate.

The company is not named in the charging documents, though the references make clear that it is Huawei, which was charged in 2019 with bank fraud and again the following year with new counts of racketeering conspiracy and a plot to steal trade secrets.

Spokespeople for Huawei and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment. Huawei has previously called the federal investigation “political persecution, plain and simple”.

“Attacking Huawei will not help the US stay ahead of the competition,” the company said in a statement in 2020.

In the case linked to “Operation Fox Hunt”, prosecutors say Chinese agents tried to intimidate an unnamed person and his family to return to China. Part of the plot, the US alleges, involved having the person’s nephew travel to the US as part of a tour group to deliver threats.

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