A federal court in the Southern District of New York today unsealed a complaint charging two individuals with acting and conspiring to act in the United States as unregistered agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), conspiring to bribe and bribing a public official, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to the complaint, John Chen, aka Chen Jun, 70, a Los Angeles resident and former citizen of the PRC, and Lin Feng, a Los Angeles resident and PRC citizen, allegedly participated in a PRC Government-directed scheme targeting U.S.-based practitioners of Falun Gong — a spiritual practice banned in the PRC. Chen and Feng were arrested today in the Central District of California.
“The Chinese government has yet again attempted, and failed, to target critics of the PRC here in the United States,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “We allege the defendants in this case attempted to bribe someone they thought was an IRS agent in order to further the Chinese government’s campaign of transnational repression in the United States. But the individual they attempted to bribe was in fact an undercover law enforcement agent, and both defendants were arrested this morning. 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. We will never stop working to defend the rights to which every person in the United States is entitled.”
“The Department of Justice continues to expose the Chinese government’s brazen attempts to perpetrate transnational repression, this time through attempted bribery,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “As highlighted by today’s arrests and charges of conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering, we will not tolerate efforts by the PRC or any foreign government to intimidate, harass, or undermine the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all who live in the United States.”
“China’s government has once again shown its disregard for the rule of law and international norms,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI will not tolerate CCP repression — its efforts to threaten, harass, and intimidate people — here in the United States. We will continue to confront the Chinese government’s efforts to violate our laws and repress the rights and freedoms of people in our country.”“No other nation poses as severe a threat to the democratic values of the United States as the government of the People’s Republic of China,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate. “The FBI will not stand by as the PRC attempts to weaponize our institutions and programs and attack the rights of those on U.S. soil. Any attempt to repress or harass individuals runs directly counter to the ideals our nation was founded upon, and it simply will not be tolerated. The FBI and our partners remain committed to confronting the illegal conduct of the PRC government that threatens our national security and freedom.”
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “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.”
The complaint alleges that from at least approximately January 2023 to May 2023, Chen and Feng worked inside the United States at the direction of the PRC government, including an identified PRC government official (PRC Official-1), to further the PRC government’s campaign to repress and harass Falun Gong practitioners. The PRC Government has designated the Falun Gong as one of the “five poisons,” or one of the top five threats to its rule. In China, Falun Gong adherents face a range of repressive and punitive measures from the PRC government, including imprisonment and torture.
As part of the PRC government’s campaign against the Falun Gong, Chen and Feng allegedly engaged in a PRC government-directed scheme to manipulate the IRS’s Whistleblower Program in an effort to strip the tax-exempt status of an entity run and maintained by Falun Gong practitioners (Entity-1). After Chen filed a defective whistleblower complaint with the IRS (the Chen Whistleblower Complaint), Chen and Feng paid $5,000 in cash bribes, and promised to pay substantially more, to a purported IRS agent who was in fact an undercover officer (Agent-1), in exchange for Agent-1’s assistance in advancing the complaint. Neither Chen nor Feng notified the Attorney General that they were acting as agents of the PRC government in the United States.
In the course of the scheme, Chen, on a recorded call, explicitly noted that the purpose of paying these bribes, which were directed and funded by the PRC government, was to carry out the PRC government’s aim of “toppl[ing] . . . the Falun Gong.” During a call intercepted pursuant to a judicially authorized wiretap, Chen and Feng discussed receiving “direction” on the bribery scheme from PRC Official-1, deleting instructions received from PRC Official-1 in order to evade detection, and “alert[ing]” and “sound[ing] the alarm” to PRC Official-1 if Chen and Feng’s meetings to bribe Agent-1 did not go as planned. Chen and Feng also discussed that PRC Official-1 was the PRC Government official “in charge” of the bribery scheme targeting the Falun Gong.
As part of this scheme, Chen and Feng allegedly met with Agent-1 in Newburgh, New York, on May 14. During the meeting, Chen gave Agent-1 a $1,000 cash bribe as an initial, partial bribe payment. Chen further offered to pay Agent-1 a total of $50,000 for opening an audit of Entity-1, as well as 60% of any whistleblower award from the IRS if the Chen Whistleblower Complaint were successful. On May 18, Feng paid Agent-1 a $4,000 cash bribe at John F. Kennedy International Airport as an additional partial bribe payment in furtherance of the scheme. Chen allegedly obtained funding from the PRC government to make bribe payments during his trips to the PRC in the course of the scheme.
Chen and Feng are each charged with (1) 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; (2) 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; (3) one count of bribing a public official, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; and (4) one count of conspiring to commit international money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The FBI New York and Los Angeles Field Offices and Counterintelligence Division are investigating the case with valuable assistance provided by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shiva H. Logarajah, Qais Ghafary, Michael D. Lockard, and Kathryn Wheelock for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Christina A. Clark of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.
The charges in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.