Two Chinese nationals were arrested Monday on charges of operating an illegal police station in New York City to "monitor and intimidate" critics of the Chinese government, the Justice Department said.
Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan, are accused of setting up the first overseas police station in the U.S. on behalf of the Fuzhou branch of China's Ministry of Public Security.
The secret police station, which was in an office building in Chinatown, was closed in the fall of 2022 after those operating it became aware of the FBI investigation, federal prosecutors said.
FBI agents raided the station last October and also seized cellphones belonging to Lu and Chen. The agents found evidence that communications between the two men and with a Ministry of Public Security official had been deleted, federal prosecutors said.
In interviews with the FBI, Lu and Chen admitted that they had deleted their communications with the official after learning about the Justice Department probe.
Lu and Chen were arrested at their homes. They were expected to be arraigned Monday afternoon on two charges: conspiring to act as agents of the People's Republic of China and obstruction of justice.
It was not clear if the two men had hired attorneys.
“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 acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI 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 says the overseas outposts are not police stations but service centers that help Chinese nationals with tasks such as renewing their driver’s licenses. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Tuesday that the Justice Department allegations were unsubstantiated.
“The U.S. has maliciously linked the overseas service stations for overseas Chinese with Chinese diplomatic and consular officials, making unfounded accusations. This is pure political manipulation,” the spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said at a regular news briefing. “The overseas police stations you mentioned simply do not exist.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray, in an appearance before a Senate committee last November, said he was "very concerned" about the existence of unauthorized stations in the U.S. involved in Beijing’s influence operations.
Wray's remarks came a month after the human rights group Safeguard Defenders released a report that revealed the presence of Chinese police “service stations” in major cities around the world, including New York.
In addition to the charges against Lu and Chen in New York, the Justice Department on Monday also unsealed two other criminal complaints in federal court in Brooklyn accusing 44 Chinese nationals of engaging in harassment and repression schemes that targeted U.S.-based critics of Xi Jinping's government.
One complaint against 34 officers of China’s national police describes a proposal by the Ministry of State Security for a massive data mining project to collect negative comments about China on Twitter and hunt down the individuals who made them, wherever they live, using “a database of email and phone identifiers.”
The complaint also says China continues to spread propaganda on social media through “anonymized fake accounts that often appear to belong to users outside the PRC,” the People's Republic of China.
The third complaint accuses 10 others of disrupting meetings on the platform of an unidentified U.S. telecommunications company commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“These cases demonstrate the lengths the PRC government will go to silence and harass U.S. persons who exercise their fundamental rights to speak out against PRC oppression, including by unlawfully exploiting a U.S.-based technology company,” said Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division
The 44 defendants are believed to live in China and remain at large.