Two individuals were arrested in New York on Monday on federal charges that they operated a police station in lower Manhattan for the Chinese government, prosecutors said.
“Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan, both U.S. citizens, worked together to create an overseas branch of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS), federal officials said. They opened the station in an office building in Chinatown, a neighborhood in Manhattan. The station was closed last year, according to the prosecutors.
Federal officials also filed complaints against more than three dozen officers with the MPS, accusing them of harassing Chinese nationals living in New York and other parts of the United States. The officers, who remain at large in China, targeted individuals in the United States who expressed views contrary to the position of the Chinese government, according to the federal officials.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington has not replied to queries about the announcement regarding the arrests of Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping. It isn’t clear if the two have lawyers.
A Justice Department official said that the police station was part of an effort by the Chinese government to spy on and frighten individuals who live in the United States.
“The PRC, through its repressive security apparatus, established a secret physical presence in New York City to monitor and intimidate dissidents and those critical of its government,” said Matthew G. Olsen, an assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s National Security Division, referring to the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping were charged with conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government and of obstructing justice through the destruction of evidence of their communications with a Chinese ministry official, according to a complaint filed in a federal court in Brooklyn.
They allegedly destroyed emails that they had exchanged with an official at the MPS, according to federal officials.
Lu had been responsible for assisting the Chinese security ministry in various ways, according to the federal officials. They said that Lu had helped apply pressure on an individual to return to China and assisted in efforts to track down a “pro-democracy activist” also living in the United States.
The existence of a police station in Chinatown came to light last year. According to federal officials, Chinese security officials ran the outpost, as well as dozens of other stations in cities and towns around the world.
The FBI’s arrest of individuals in connection to the Chinatown police station is the latest effort by U.S. officials to curtail what they describe as the Chinese government’s activities in the United States.
The arrest of the two individuals in New York is also a reminder of the tense relationship between the two countries. Lately, U.S. officials have highlighted the Chinese government’s influence operations and attempts to sway people’s opinions so that they view Chinese government policies in a more favorable light.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about China’s influence campaigns – the idea that China is on the move in the United States,” said Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center in Washington. “But this potentially puts Chinese agents right in downtown Manhattan.”