Spy vs. Spy

Chinese spies charged with trying to thwart Huawei investigation

The spies paid $61,000 in bitcoin to an agent working for the US government
Chinese spies charged with trying to thwart Huawei investigation
Photo: Jade Gao/AFP (Getty Images)
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The US Department of Justice leveled charges against more than 13 Chinese nationals on Oct. 24, including two suspected Chinese spies for trying to interfere with a US criminal investigation of Huawei, one of China’s largest technology companies.

The government’s charges, unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, allege that two Chinese intelligence officers “knowingly, intentionally and corruptly” interfered with a criminal probe of a “global telecommunications company,” the government wrote in the complaint (pdf). While the complaint does not name Huawei, sources close to the investigation confirmed the company’s identity, the Washington Post reported.

Guochun He and Zheng Wang allegedly attempted to bribe a US government employee they believed they had recruited as a Chinese asset to steal information about the Huawei criminal probe. The US employee, however, fed the two men false information provided by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

He and Wang face charges of obstruction of an official proceeding, and two counts of money laundering to finance the operation, funneling about $61,000 in bitcoin to support their campaign. The latest allegations follow earlier charges against Huawei for bank fraud and racketeering charges between 2019 and 2020.

The US cracks down on Chinese spying

The unsealed charges were announced as part of a broader crackdown on Chinese influence campaigns in the US. “The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based,” said US Attorney General Merrick Garland during the Monday press conference. “We will continue to fiercely protect the rights guaranteed to everyone in our country, and we will defend the integrity of our institutions.” Officials said a new counterintelligence case against China is being opened every 12 hours, a 13-fold increase over a few years ago.

Garland also announced two other sets of charges against Chinese nationals. Four people were charged as unregistered foreign agents for the Chinese government and seven others were charged as part of a years-long campaign to pressure a US resident to return to China. Out of the 13 Chinese nationals charged on Oct. 24, only two have been arrested so far.

The US government has sharpened its focus on Chinese businesses and investors in recent years, amid an escalating trade war with the Asian power. And Huawei is far from the only Chinese company in America’s crosshairs: In recent years, the US government has blocked deals that would’ve put the dating app Grindr under Chinese control and US chipmaker Qualcomm under Singaporean control (for fear of Chinese influence); it’s pressured multiple Chinese companies to leave the New York Stock Exchange; and Trump attempted to ban WeChat and TikTok, the latter of which is still under investigation by an interagency national security panel.