WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Five people accused of acting on behalf of the Chinese government have been charged with plotting to stalk and harass Chinese dissidents living in the United States, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
One of the victims is a little-known congressional candidate in New York whose election bid a Chinese operative sought to undermine by seeking to uncover or even manufacture derogatory information that would cause him to lose the race, prosecutors said.
The operative, identified as Qiming Lin, is accused in a federal complaint of having contacted a private investigator seeking information about the candidate’s phone number, address and vehicle. He later asked the investigator to “dig up things from 1989 to now” in search of flaws against the candidate, such any evidence of crimes or other misconduct.
The effort is part of what American officials have identified as a broader strategy by the Chinese government to locate, silence and threaten dissidents living abroad. The Justice Department in 2020 charged eight people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges.
Justice Department officials planned to discuss the case at a Washington news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
The investigator Lin is accused of contacting was actually a source for the FBI, who reported the initial outreach to agents and said he believed Lin to be a retired agent of China’s Ministry of State Security. In an affidavit, the FBI agent conducting the investigation wrote that, “Based on the conduct summarized herein and my experience and training, I assess that LIN continued to act on behalf of the MSS even if ostensibly retired.”
The candidate is described in court papers as a Chinese dissident and student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Though the candidate is not identified by name in the complaint, the biographical details in the document match those of Yan Xiong, who announced his candidacy as a Democrat for a congressional seat in New York City in this year’s election.
A phone call to a number listed on his campaign website was answered by a man who identified himself as a friend and said he would pass along the message to Yan. An email sent to an address on his website was not immediately returned.
Lin remains at large, officials said. He faces charges that include conspiracy to commit interstate harassment.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.