By Jonathan Stempel, Sarah N. Lynch, and Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors said on Monday they charged two Chinese nationals with trying to obstruct the prosecution of a Chinese telecommunications company that a person familiar with the matter identified as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
Prosecutors said the case is representative of a broader pattern of illegal influence efforts by China, announcing that they had also charged 11 people in two other cases with spying for Beijing or intimidating Chinese dissidents.
In the case related to alleged attempts to manipulate the Huawei investigation, prosecutors said two Chinese intelligence officials tried to recruit a US law enforcement officer to work as their spy. However, the recruit was actually working as a double agent for the United States.
Chinese nationals Guochun He and Zheng Wang were charged with trying to interfere with the prosecution, prosecutors said. Court documents did not name the company, but the complaint referenced the same dates the United States unsealed its charges against Huawei, in 2019 and 2020.
A Huawei spokesman could not be reached for comment on Monday. The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In addition to the case against the two Chinese nationals accused of interfering with Huawei’s prosecution, the Justice Department also announced charges in two other schemes.
The second case accuses four Chinese New Jersey citizens of running a decade-long intelligence campaign, while the third accuses seven others of running a campaign of harassment against a US resident in an attempt to convince him to go back to China.
Of the 13 people charged, 10 are Chinese intelligence officers and Chinese government officials. All but two of the suspects remain at large. Washington does not have an extradition treaty with China.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law on which our democracy is founded,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference.
Huawei was indicted in 2018 for allegedly misleading HSBC and other banks about its business in Iran, which is subject to US sanctions. In 2020, other charges were added to the case, including conspiring to steal trade secrets from six companies in American technology and helping Iran track protesters during anti-government demonstrations in 2009. The firm has pleaded not guilty.
The complaint against He and Wang alleges that they tried to obtain confidential information about witnesses, evidence from the trial, and possible new charges that the company could face.
He alleges that they tried to recruit someone from a US law enforcement agency who they thought would help them spy for China. The recruit, referred to only as “GE-1,” was actually working as a double agent for the United States under the supervision of the FBI, the complaint says.
Starting in October 2021, He and Wang paid the recruit $14,000 plus $600 worth of jewelry in exchange for what they believed to be sensitive information about the Justice Department’s investigation and criminal prosecution of the company, according to the complaint.
According to court documents, He and Wang began trying to access non-public information about the Justice Department investigation when the company was initially indicted in 2019.
But his activity intensified in the summer of 2021, when He asked GE-1 about details of meetings with the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York as prosecutors discussed preparations for the jury trial.
In response, GE-1 handed He a piece of paper that appeared to be marked classified. That page purported to discuss a plan by federal investigators to arrest two of the company’s executives in China.
In exchange for that page, he paid GE-1 $41,000 in bitcoin, the complaint says.
Later that same year, GE-1 also turned a second page that also allegedly discussed legal strategy, including the use of multiple cooperating witnesses in the prosecution.
“Each of these cases exposes the Chinese government’s blatant violation of international law as they work to project their authoritarian vision around the world,” FBI Director Chris Wray said Monday.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Karen Freifeld in New York and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Brunnstrom, and Jacqueline Thomsen; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis, and David Gregorio)