Communist China’s government used American private investigators to harass dissidents in the United States, according to a federal indictment of five people made public last week.
The indictment identified five men who are charged with acting as foreign agents of China in a scheme to monitor and harass three dissidents who were not identified by name.
According to court documents in the case, the five men were part of what the Justice Department calls a “transnational repression” campaign that has been a key feature of Chinese intelligence operations in the United States to silence dissidents.
The initial criminal complaint in the case involved three people, Fan “Frank” Liu, Matthew Ziburis and Qiang “Jason” Sun. The indictment identified two new defendants, Craig Miller and Derrick Taylor.
Mr. Miller worked as a 15-year employee of the Department of Homeland Security as a deportation officer for the department’s enforcement and removal operations in Minneapolis. Mr. Taylor is a retired DHS law enforcement agent and now works as a private investigator in Irvine, California.
Both were arrested in June and charged with obstruction of justice after being questioned by FBI agents about accessing a restricted law enforcement database on Chinese dissidents.
The men claimed they obtained the confidential data from the dark web.
Mr. Liu is president of a media company in New York City and Mr. Ziburis is a former correctional officer and bodyguard. Mr. Sun is based in China and works for a technology company.
The spying operation was directed by Mr. Sun and carried out by Mr. Liu and Mr. Ziburis “to discredit prodemocracy PRC dissidents” in New York, California and Indiana by spreading negative information about them in public. Mr. Liu and Mr. Ziburis were arrested in March, while Mr. Sun remains at large.
The Group's Operation Is Being Revealed
In one case, Mr. Liu allegedly paid a private investigator in Queens to bribe an IRS agent to obtain federal tax returns on one dissident. Instead, the private investigator went to authorities and cooperated in the investigation.
In one case, three of the defendants allegedly used electronic means to spy on pro-democracy activists. Mr. Ziburis posed as an art dealer interested in buying artwork from one dissident and helped place surveillance cameras and GPS tracking devices on the dissident’s car and workplace.
While in the PRC, Sun watched the live video feed and location data from these devices, the statement said.
The defendants also planned to use similar gear on two other dissidents.
If convicted of the charges, all five people face more than 20 years in prison.