Huawei Investigation Was Targeted by Chinese Spies, US Alleges
The US unsealed charges claiming two Chinese intelligence officers tried to obstruct a criminal investigation of Huawei.
The US unsealed charges claiming two Chinese intelligence officers tried to obstruct a criminal investigation of Huawei Technologies Co., and alleged others were working on behalf of a “foreign power” to try procure technology and recruit spies.
The charges were part of a series of recently unsealed cases the Justice Department announced Monday that officials said had disrupted criminal activity being conducted by the People's Republic of China.
“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters in Washington. “They did not succeed.”
Ten of the 13 individuals charged were Chinese intelligence individuals, according to FBI Director Chris Wray.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco added that the case involving alleged obstruction of a US probe of a telecommunications company -- which the DOJ wouldn't identify -- exposes the connection between the Chinese government and its companies. She said the telecom giant tried to “unlawfully gain an edge” to undermine the US investigation, and shows why Chinese companies shouldn't be trusted to handle the personal data of Americans.
In a complaint made public Monday, the US claims Guochun He and Zheng Wang worked on behalf of the Chinese government to target the US, from 2019 until the present, for the benefit of the company. A person familiar with the matter confirmed it is Huawei.
$61,000 in Bitcoin
The US claims He and Wang bribed a law enforcement employee to provide what they believed was confidential information about witnesses, evidence and possible additional charges to be filed against the technology giant. He paid the employee $61,000 in Bitcoin, according to the criminal complaint.
In a separate action, four people were charged in federal court in New Jersey with conspiracy to act as an illegal agent of a foreign government. The conspiracy allegedly involved Chinese intelligence officers posing as academics to recruit US law enforcement workers and others in seeking help procuring fingerprint technology and equipment for the US. They also allegedly pressured one former official to stop protests in the US along the 2008 Olympic torch route, according to court filings.
In addition, the Justice Department announced that seven people from China were charged in an indictment unsealed in the Eastern District of New York last week with conspiring to harass a Chinese citizen living in the US in hopes of causing the person to return. The actions were allegedly part of an effort by China, called “Operation Fox Hunt,” to force the repatriation of alleged fugitives living in other countries.
In the case involving the Huawei probe, the complaint includes conversations between He and Wang and a US government employee working as a double agent under supervision of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They were using an encrypted messaging program that is not identified.
At a regular press briefing Tuesday in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said “the US was overstretching the concept of national security to hobble Chinese companies and undermine the legitimate interests of Chinese citizens.”
In a January 2019 message, the employee told He that he was “having financial difficulties.”
He responded “let me see if there are something I can do for you,” according to the complaint.
Later, in February 2020, when the US added new charges to the existing case against Huawei, He wrote “And you know, yesterday, the US department of justice make a new lawsuit just aim to [Huawei], can you talk about this with your ex-college [colleague] who work for department of justice?” He allegedly asked. “Evidences, next measures, or communication..., anything about this are good, Thank you very much.”
The government alleges He and Wang first cultivated their relationship with the law enforcement employee, who is not named, in February 2007, before the employee started working with the FBI.
A US magistrate judge on Thursday approved warrants for the arrest of He and Wang, both Chinese citizens, on charges of obstruction of an official proceeding and money laundering. Their current location is not known.
US prosecutors charged Huawei in 2019, claiming it stole trade secrets from T-Mobile USA Inc. and committed bank fraud by violating sanctions against doing business with Iran. The US expanded the case the following year, adding racketeering conspiracy charges.
Mike Hong, a Huawei spokesman, didn't immediately comment about the new charges related to the US probe of the company.
The alleged efforts to interfere in the prosecution escalated in October 2021 when He and Wang told the law enforcement employee to give them details of prosecution strategy meetings with the US team in Brooklyn, the US claims. The employee passed to He a fake, single-page document labeled “SECRET,” discussing a potential plan to charge two current principals of the company residing in China. He paid $41,000 for the single page, according to the complaint.
As recently as last month, He and Wang allegedly gave the employee $14,000 plus $600 worth of jewelry for sensitive information.
The case is US v. Guochun He and Zheng Wang, 22-mj-1137, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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