US charges Chinese officers with trying to interfere in Huawei probe

US authorities have charged two Chinese intelligence officers with seeking to obstruct the criminal prosecution of Huawei, in one of three cases announced on Monday that government officials say shines a light on Beijing’s “flagrant violation of international laws”.

In court filings, the Department of Justice alleged two Chinese citizens paid a US law enforcement officer $61,000 in bitcoin to obtain information on the prosecution and probe against a big Chinese telecoms company.

While the company was not named, details in the legal documents match Huawei’s description. Reuters also cited a person familiar with the matter confirming the company was Huawei.

Guochun He and Zheng Wang, who remain at large, were charged with obstruction of justice. He was also charged with money laundering in relation to the bribes paid in bitcoin.

As part of the alleged scheme, which began in 2019, He and Wang were accused of seeking information on company employees interviewed by the US government as well as prosecutors’ trial strategy, evidence and witness list. Unbeknown to them, the US government employee was also working with the FBI, prosecutors said.

Huawei did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The DoJ in 2020 accused it of seeking to misappropriate intellectual property from US technology companies. Huawei has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering and stealing trade secrets.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, had also been charged in 2019 with bank and wire fraud. She was detained in Canada, and later released after reaching a deal with the US government.

The case comes as tensions have continued to rise between Washington and Beijing over a host of issues, including technology. The administration of Joe Biden recently sent China’s chips industry reeling by implementing severe export controls that will curb its access to advanced computer chips.

In addition to the Huawei case, the DoJ on Monday disclosed two additional cases involving Chinese nationals, each of which “lays bare the Chinese government’s flagrant violation of international laws as they work to project their authoritarian view around the world”, FBI director Christopher Wray said.

“The government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to our judicial system that protects those rights,” said Merrick Garland, US attorney-general. “They did not succeed.”

In one case, US authorities charged seven Chinese citizens with conspiring to repatriate a Chinese national from the US by force as part of a campaign known as “Operation Fox Hunt”, which Beijing says is aimed at repatriating Alleged fugitives.

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

The DoJ alleged the defendants harassed the US resident and his family members for years. The Chinese government also “harassed” the targets by filing a lawsuit in the New York state court accusing them of stealing funds from a former China-based employer, the DoJ said.

Two of the defendants — a US resident, who was allegedly directed by Chinese government officials, and his daughter — were arrested last week. The others remain at large.

In a third case, the DoJ charged four Chinese nationals, including three intelligence officers, with a decade-long scheme allegedly aimed at recruiting individuals, such enforcement as university professors and former law officials, via a fake think-tank to act on behalf of Beijing.

A target was offered fully paid trips to China during which they were asked to help block protests in the US related to Beijing’s 2008 Olympics and to supply “sensitive” fingerprint technology, according to the DoJ.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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