F.B.I. Arrests Two on Charges Tied to Chinese Police Outpost in New York
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged the men with conspiring with the Chinese government and destroying evidence.
For years, thousands of New Yorkers and tourists have walked past an unassuming office building in Lower Manhattan. On Monday, federal prosecutors unsealed criminal charges accusing two men of helping run an unauthorized Chinese police outpost there, one of more than 100 around the globe used to intimidate and control China’s citizens abroad, and to stamp out criticism of the ruling Communist Party.
The two men were arrested on Monday and charged with conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government, and with obstructing justice. They are said to have used the police outpost to intimidate Chinese dissidents living in the United States, on China’s behalf.
Charges were also unveiled in two related cases: one against 34 Chinese police officers accused of harassing Chinese nationals who lived in the New York area, and another against eight Chinese officials accused of directing a Zoom employee based in China to remove dissidents from the platform.
The Manhattan police outpost, court papers say, was overseen by the Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau, a branch of China’s Ministry of Public Security. It is one of scores of such operations around the world that have unnerved diplomats and intelligence officials.
The case represents the first time criminal charges have been brought in connection with such a police outpost, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.
The charges against the men, Lu Jianwang, 61, also known as Harry Lu, and Chen Jinping, 59, grew out of an investigation by the F.B.I. and the U.S. attorney’s office into the outpost, which conducted its operations without jurisdiction or diplomatic approval.
“Today’s charges are a crystal clear response to the P.R.C. that we are onto you, we know what you’re doing and we will stop it from happening in the United States of America,” Breon S. Peace, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “We don’t need or want a secret police station in our great city.”
Officials described all three cases as being part of a worldwide effort to suppress criticism of China’s government.
“The People’s Republic of China, through its Ministry of Public Security, has engaged in a multifront campaign to extend the reach and impact of its authoritarian system into the United States and elsewhere around the world,” said David Newman, the Justice Department’s top national security official in Washington.
F.B.I. counterintelligence agents searched the police outpost, located on the third floor of a nondescript glass-sheathed building at 107 East Broadway, as part of their investigation last fall.
The six-story office building, on a bustling street on the edge of Chinatown in Lower Manhattan lined with restaurants, seafood shops, electronics stores and other businesses, also houses an acupuncturist, an engineering company and an accounting firm.
The search amounted to an escalation in the global dispute over China’s efforts to police its diaspora far beyond its borders.
Officials in Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands have called on China to shut down similar operations in their countries. The F.B.I. raid in New York was the first known example of authorities seizing materials from one of the outposts.
Mr. Lu and Mr. Chen were charged with obstruction of justice and accused of destroying text messages between themselves and their handler at the Ministry of Public Security in October 2022, around the time of the F.B.I. search.
They were also charged with conspiring to act as agents of the People’s Republic of China without registering with the Justice Department, as the law requires.
The charges were announced Monday at a news conference in Brooklyn by Mr. Peace, Mr. Newman, and Michael Driscoll, the F.B.I. assistant director who leads the New York office.
Mr. Lu, who is also known as Harry Lu, lives in the Bronx and maintains a residence in China. Mr. Chen lives in Manhattan. Both men are American citizens and were released on bail after appearances before a magistrate judge on Monday afternoon.
Relatives of the men declined to comment. A court-appointed lawyer for Mr. Chen, Susan G. Kellman, said that he worked as a home health aide and owned no property to use as collateral.
In 2018 IRS filings, Mr. Lu was listed as the president of a nonprofit organization called the America Changle Association NY, whose offices housed the police outpost.
A criminal complaint unsealed on Monday said that the group was formed in 2013 and lists its charitable mission as a “social gathering place” for people from the Chinese city of Fuzhou. The complaint says Mr. Lu serves as the association’s general adviser and Mr. Chen as its secretary general.
When news that the F.B.I. had searched the Manhattan office was first reported in January, the Chinese Embassy in Washington downplayed the role of the police outposts, saying they were staffed by volunteers who helped Chinese nationals perform routine tasks like renewing their driver’s licenses back home.
But the American authorities said that they were clearly focused on monitoring members of the Chinese diaspora and infringing on their right to free speech.
“It is our belief that the ultimate purpose of this illegal police station was not to protect and serve,” Mr. Driscoll said, “but rather silence, harass and threaten individuals here in the United States.”
The two other cases revolved around political speech in the digital sphere. But all of the defendants are believed to be in China, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
One expanded a case first filed in 2020, in which prosecutors brought charges against Xinjiang Jin, formerly a China-based executive at the videoconferencing company Zoom, accusing him of disrupting and censoring commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The amended complaint unsealed on Monday expands the charges to eight Chinese officials and another person who prosecutors say directed the activity.
The remaining case charged 34 officers of China’s Ministry of Public Security with operating a “troll farm” to attack Chinese dissidents, sow division and disseminate disinformation. The officers were part of an elite task force called the 912 Special Project Working Group, prosecutors said.
The complaint alleges that the group created thousands of fake profiles on social media sites including Twitter, and spread propaganda about topics like human rights in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, unrest after the police killing of George Floyd, and Covid-19.