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U.S. arrests 2 for allegedly operating secret Chinese police outpost in New York

2 accused of running secret Chinese police station
2 Chinese-Americans arrested for allegedly running secret police station in New York City 02:01

Washington — The FBI arrested two defendants on charges that they set up and operated an illegal Chinese police station in the middle of New York City in order to influence and intimidate dissidents critical of the Chinese government in the U.S., the Justice Department announced Monday.

"Harry" Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan are charged with conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government and obstruction of justice. In a 30-page affidavit accompanying a criminal complaint, an FBI agent alleged that the defendants established a secret police station under the direction of China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in a Manhattan office building.

The Justice Department said the two men helped open the outpost in 2022, and deleted their communications with an MPS official once they became aware of the FBI's investigation. Both are due to appear in federal court in Brooklyn later on Monday.

"It is simply outrageous that China's Ministry of Public Security thinks it can get away with establishing a secret, illegal police station on U.S. soil to aid its efforts to export repression and subvert our rule of law," said Kurt Ronnow, the acting assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. "This case serves as a powerful reminder that the People's Republic of China will stop at nothing to bend people to their will and silence messages they don't want anyone to hear."

China disputed the U.S. assertions about the police stations on Tuesday, according to the Reuters news agency, which quotes Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin as saying they don't exist and that China has a policy of non-interference in other nations' internal affairs.

Agence France-Presse reports that Wenbin said "political manipulation" was behind the arrests.

"China firmly opposes the US side's slandering, smearing, engaging in political manipulation, and maliciously concocting the so-called transnational repression narrative," AFP quotes him as saying.

In a separate complaint, nearly three dozen MPS officers were charged with using fake social media accounts to intimidate Chinese dissents in the U.S. and disseminate "official PRC government propaganda and narratives to counter the pro-democracy speech of the Chinese dissidents," the Justice Department said, referring to the People's Republic of China. 

The 34 defendants, all believed to reside in China, allegedly worked as part of an elite task force known as the "912 Special Project Working Group" to locate and harass Chinese dissidents around the world in an effort to silence criticism of the Chinese government. Others are accused of disrupting online meetings where topics critical of the Chinese government were discussed, according to charging documents unsealed Monday.

The group allegedly operated a troll farm of thousands of fake social media profiles on sites like Twitter to disseminate Chinese government propaganda and recruit agents inside the U.S. to do the same. In one instance, members of the 912 Group allegedly targeted an anti-communism virtual conference convened by a Chinese dissident with loud music, threats and vulgarities.

Ten more individuals, including six MPS officers, are accused of trying to censor the political and religious speech of people in the U.S. who were critical of China's government. 

"As alleged, the PRC government deploys its national police and the 912 Special Project Working Group not as an instrument to uphold the law and protect public safety, but rather as a troll farm that attacks persons in our country for exercising free speech in a manner that the PRC government finds disagreeable, and also spreads propaganda whose sole purpose is to sow divisions within the United States," Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a release.

Monday's charges, the first targeting secret Chinese police outposts anywhere in the world, are the latest in the Justice Department's efforts to combat transnational repression of foreign dissidents living in the U.S. Last year, federal prosecutors charged more than a dozen defendants, most of them Chinese officials, with allegedly participating in schemes to repatriate critics of the Chinese government, obtain secret information about a U.S. investigation into a Chinese telecom firm and recruit spies to act as agents of the Chinese regime in the U.S.

And in January, the Justice Department accused three men of plotting to assassinate an Iranian journalist living in the U.S. for her outspoken criticism of Iran's regime. The men, from the U.S., Iran and the Czech Republic, were charged with murder-for-hire in an indictment unsealed in federal court in New York.

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