The two individuals tried to bribe purported IRS official to advance Beijing’s campaign against persecuted group, Justice Department says
NEW YORK—Federal prosecutors charged two men with attempting to bribe a public official with tens of thousands of dollars in a scheme to help the Chinese Communist Party “topple” the persecuted faith group Falun Gong.
John Chen, a 70-year-old U.S. citizen born in China, and Lin Feng, a Chinese citizen aged 43, have attempted to “manipulate the IRS Whistleblower Program, through bribery and deceit,” to strip a Falun Gong-run entity of its tax-exempt status, according to court filings unsealed on May 26.
The information they submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is “facially deficient and contains rhetoric similar to the propaganda that the PRC Government uses to justify its subjugation and harassment of Falun Gong members,” according to the complaint.
Chen and Feng, who reside in California’s Chino City and Los Angeles respectively, were arrested from their residences early Friday morning, an officer from the FBI Los Angeles field office told The Epoch Times.
The two face charges of conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering. They will appear in District Court for the Central District of California on the same day.
The action marks the first prosecution from U.S. authorities to deter the Chinese regime from carrying out its persecution campaign targeting Falun Gong, a meditative practice featuring truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance that Beijing had determined to eradicate since 1999. It also followed the arrest of two individuals allegedly running a secret police station in New York for Beijing. One of the men, according to the Justice Department, organized counterprotests in Washington to demonstrations from Falun Gong practitioners during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s U.S. visit in 2015.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement announcing the charges.
Prosecutors on Friday described the arrest as their latest effort to confront the transnational repression campaign from China.
“The Chinese government has yet again attempted, and failed, to target critics of the PRC here in the United States,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. He added that the Justice Department “will continue to investigate, disrupt, and prosecute efforts by the PRC government to silence its critics and extend the reaches of its regime onto U.S. soil” and “defend the rights to which every person in the United States is entitled.”
Through the case, “China’s government has once again shown its disregard for the rule of law and international norms,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. He vowed that his agency will “continue to confront the Chinese government’s efforts to violate our laws and repress the rights and freedoms of people in our country.”
From January to May, Chen and Feng worked under the direction of Chinese officials to engage in a bribery campaign targeting Falun Gong. Discussing the plan in a recorded call around Jan. 21, Chen indicated his goal to achieve the Chinese regime’s aim to “topple” Falun Gong, noting that the Chinese “leadership” would be “very generous” in funding the illicit payments, according to the court document.
The pair arranged a meeting on May 14 with an undercover agent who posed as an IRS official, promising to pay a total of $50,000 to open an audit on the Falun Gong-related entity, the document said. During that meeting, they also gave a $1,000 cash bribe as an initial payment. The agent would receive 60 percent of the whistleblower award from the IRS if the whistleblower complaint was successful, Chen and Feng promised during the meeting around New York’s Newburgh.
On an intercepted call two days prior, the two mentioned how they would receive “direction” from a Chinese official to carry out the scheme through a China-based encrypted messaging app, delete the official’s instructions, and “alert” and “sound the alarm” to the Chinese official if the meeting failed to go as planned.
The identity of the Chinese official remains sealed, but Chen, in an intercepted call while discussing the scheme, said the official is “the one that is always in charge of these matters,” the complaint said. The complaint noted that the repression efforts targeting Falun Gong are centralized from the “610 Office,” an extralegal body that for many years maintained a principal location in China’s northeastern megacity Tianjin.
Chen stated in a call with the agent following their meeting that they were carrying out the campaign on behalf of Beijing. According to the filing, Chen boasted that his associates in the Chinese regime “are like blood brothers.”
“We started this fight against [the founder of Falun Gong] twenty, thirty years ago. They are always with us,” Chen allegedly said.
Feng handed the undercover agent another $4,000 cash bribe at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 18 to further the scheme. The same day, Chen told the agent in a call that he would return to China to collect more funding, with Feng hand-delivering two $25,000 payments to the agent in New York.
“The alleged activity is antithetical to fundamental American values, and those who practice transnational oppression on behalf of the Chinese government must be held accountable,” said FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director in Charge Donald Always.
Linda Jiang contributed to this report.
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