US charges Chinese citizens over interference in Huawei inquiry

Attorney General Merrick Garland announces indictments against people accused of trying to 'undermine country'

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Chinese operatives attempted to subvert "the integrity of our judicial system". Bloomberg
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The US Department of Justice announced on Monday charges against 13 Chinese citizens for their alleged involvement with Beijing's spy agencies.

The charges, which included obstruction of justice, money laundering, attempts to interfere with protests and the harassment of US residents, were announced during a rare press briefing held by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

In the announced charges, two Chinese citizens were accused of trying to interfere in the federal prosecution of Chinese-based telecoms company Huawei.

“This was an egregious attempt by [People's Republic of China] intelligence officers to shield a PRC-based company from accountability and to undermine the integrity of our judicial system,” Mr Garland said.

The agency said that, starting in 2019, two alleged Chinese spies tried to bribe a US citizen with $61,000 in Bitcoin to obtain information about the ongoing federal investigation into Huawei. The US contact was in fact was a double agent working for the FBI.

The US government has charged Huawei and members of its leadership with stealing trade secrets, committing bank fraud while doing business with Iran, and racketeering conspiracy.

The company has been hit with US sanctions and restrictions as a result.

Huawei called the US actions “political persecution, plain and simple” in a 2020 letter posted on its company site. It has not commented publicly on any charges since.

Mr Garland added that the agency has unsealed indictments against four Chinese citizens allegedly involved in an operation receiving directives from Beijing.

“Those directives included attempts to procure technology and equipment from the United States and to have it shipped to China,” he said.

“They also included attempts to stop protected First Amendment activities, protests here in the United States, which would have been embarrassing to the Chinese government.”

The US attorney general added: “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.”

He also described another case in which seven people — including two who have already been arrested — who have been charged with attempting to “force a US resident to return to China” under orders from Beijing.

“The PRC has a history of targeting political dissidents and critics of the government who have sought relief and refuge in other countries,” Mr Garland said.

“The indictment alleges that the defendants working at the direction of the government of the PRC engaged in a campaign of harassment, threats, surveillance and intimidation, aimed at coercing the victim to return to China.

“We also alleged that the defendants threatened and harassed the victim's family members, both in the US and China.”

As of Monday afternoon, the Chinese government had not commented on the charges.

Updated: October 24, 2022, 8:59 PM