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US authorities charge two Chinese spies over telco security probe

Two Chinese nationals have been charged with attempting to obstruct the criminal prosecution of a prominent Chinese telecoms firm

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has accused two Chinese nationals and alleged intelligence officers of interfering in the criminal prosecution of a China-based global telecoms firm named Company 1, after supposedly orchestrating a scheme to steal files and other documents from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

While the US indictment does not explicitly name Huawei as the company involved, sources familiar with the matter have confirmed the incident does relate to US investigations into its activities.

Dong He, also known as Guochun He and Jacky He, and Zheng Whang, also known as Zen Wang, are charged with offences related to attempting to obstruct the criminal prosecution of Company 1, while He is additionally charged with money laundering offences relating to the payment of a Bitcoin bribe worth $41,000 at the time to a US government employee He believed to be a Chinese agent, but who was in fact a double agent working with the FBI. Both defendants remain at large.

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

“As alleged, the case involves an effort by PRC intelligence officers to obstruct an ongoing criminal prosecution by making bribes to obtain files from this Office and sharing them with a global telecommunications company that is a charged defendant in an ongoing prosecution. We will always act decisively to counteract criminal acts that target our system of justice.”

The full complaint alleges that after recruiting the double agent, He and Whang tasked them with reporting to them on meetings they were having with prosecutors.

They are said to have been particularly interested in knowing which employees of the company had been interviewed by the US authorities, and in getting their hands on a description of the prosecutors’ evidence, witness list and trial strategy.

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Later, in October 2021, the double agent used an unnamed encrypted messaging platform to send He and Whang a single page taken from what was supposedly an internal strategy memo regarding the case that detailed a plan to charge and arrest two company employees living in China. He said the document was “exactly what I was waiting for” and paid the double agent handsomely for their “trouble”.

In November 2021, the double agent asked He and Whang for feedback about the secret document, to which He responded that Company 1 had not given them specific feedback but were interested in its context and needed more information. The double agent was then informed that Company 1 would be interested in receiving more of the memo and might offer more money if it could be procured.

In December 2021, the double agent again requested feedback from Company 1, to which He replied that he had not yet received any positive feedback but had instead asked to speak with the double agent directly, a request He denied on the grounds it was too dangerous.

All of the charges unsealed against He and Whang remain allegations, and both are presumed innocent unless or until proven otherwise. Should they be convicted, He faces a sentence of 40 years, and Whang 20 years.

At the same time, the DoJ charged a number of other Chinese nationals, in two other cases, one in connection with a plot to force the repatriation of a Chinese national living in the US, and the other in connection with a long-running scheme to recruit individuals in the US to act as Chinese agents.

“As these cases demonstrate, 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. They did not succeed,” said US attorney general Merrick Garland.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the Rule of Law upon which our democracy is based. We will continue to fiercely protect the rights guaranteed to everyone in our country. And we will defend the integrity of our institutions.”

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