Two U.S. residents accused of acting as unregistered agents for China’s government have been federally charged in New York on bribery and money laundering counts, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release.
John Chen, 70, and Lin Feng, 43, were arrested Friday in Los Angeles and charged with conspiring to bribe and bribing a public official, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in an effort to target people who participate in the spiritual practice of Falun Gong at the direction of China’s PRC government.
Falun Gong is banned by China’s government, which sees it as a threat to its rule.
"John Chen and Lin Feng allegedly waged a campaign at the behest of the Government of the People’s Republic of China to influence a U.S. Government official in order to further the PRC Government’s repression of practitioners of Falun Gong," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. "Efforts to manipulate and use the arms of the U.S. Government to carry out the PRC Government’s autocratic aims are as shocking as they are insidious. My Office will work vigorously to protect against malign foreign influences."
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Chen and Feng are accused of attempting to strip the tax-exempt status of a Falun Gong entity by filing a whistleblower complaint with the IRS and then allegedly attempting to bribe an undercover agent posing as an IRS agent earlier this month with $5,000, and promises of more than $50,000 if the agent advanced the complaint by opening an audit.
Neither Chen nor Feng notified the U.S. attorney general that they were acting as Chinese agents allegedly starting in January of this year.
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Chen allegedly said in a recorded call that the PRC-funded bribes had the explicit aim of "toppl[ing] . . . the Falun Gong."
In another call intercepted through an authorized wiretap, both men discussed acting with the "direction" of a specific PRC official, deleting the official's instructing to avoid detection and "alert[ing]" and "sound[ing] the alarm" if the IRS meeting didn’t go as planned.
They said the PRC official was the one "in charge" of the scheme, according to the DOJ.
Chen and Feng allegedly met with the undercover agent on May 14 in Newburgh, New York, with Feng initially giving the agent $1,000 and promised $50,000 plus 60% of any whistleblower compliant reward received if the complaint was successful for opening an audit.
Four days later, Chen allegedly met the agent at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, and gave them an addition $4,000.
Chen is a U.S. citizen and a former Chinese citizen and Feng is a current Chinese citizen. Both are U.S. residents living in Los Angeles.
Chen and Feng were both charged with one count of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General and to bribe a public official, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of bribing a public official, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of conspiring to commit international money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.