Two suspects have been charged with crimes related to an operation to revoke the US tax-exempt status of the Falun Gong organization.
Authorities in the United States have arrested two suspected Chinese government agents in connection with Beijing’s alleged plot against the exiled anti-communist spiritual movement Falun Gong.
China banned Falun Gong, which is based largely around meditation, in 1999 after 10,000 members turned up at the leadership center in Beijing in silent protest.
The group called for people to reject the ruling Communist Party of China.
John Chen and Lin Feng were accused in an indictment unsealed Friday of plotting to take back the state’s tax exemption from New York-based Falun Gong and paying bribes to an undercover police officer who pretending to be a US tax agent.
Chen, a 70-year-old US citizen, and Feng, a 43-year-old legal permanent resident, were charged with acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government, bribing a public official and conspiracy to commit international money laundering.
Chen and Feng were both born in China but now live in the Los Angeles area where they were arrested last Friday. Information on an initial court appearance or attorneys who could speak for them was not immediately available.
In an effort to discredit Falun Gong in the US, federal prosecutors say, Chen and Feng’s urged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to revoke the organization’s non-profit tax status. In a whistleblower complaint to the tax agency in February, Chen described Falun Gong as a “big mega cult” — echoing language used by the Chinese government to describe the movement.
Chen and Feng then turned to undercover officials to ensure the IRS acted on the complaint, offering a $50,000 payment — and handing over $5,000 in cash as a down payment — if the tax agency conducted an audit. -audit, prosecutors said.
Undercover police posing as tax officials recorded several conversations with Chen and investigators obtained wiretaps to record phone calls in which Chen and Feng discussed instructions they had received from Chinese government official, prosecutors said.
In one recording, prosecutors said, Chen said Beijing would be “very generous” in rewarding the undercover officer’s help in suppressing Falun Gong’s non-profit status.
Chen met the officer at a restaurant in upstate New York City on May 14, prosecutors said. A few days later, the official sent Chen a letter on fake IRS letterhead saying the agency had opened a case against Falun Gong, prosecutors said. Chen relayed the news to Feng in a wiretapped phoned conversation, indicating that he planned to update Chinese government officials on their progress, prosecutors said.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC and the Falun Gong movement.
The US Department of Justice has carried out a series of prosecutions in recent years to disrupt China’s efforts to identify, track down and silence US pro-democracy activists and others who openly critical of Beijing’s policies.
Such practices by foreign governments are known as “transnational repression”.
“The Chinese government has repeatedly tried, and failed, to target critics of the [People’s Republic of China] here in the United States,” Attorney General Merrick B Garland said in a statement on Friday.
The US will “continue to investigate, harass, and prosecute” China’s efforts to “silence its critics and extend its regime’s reach to US soil”, he said.
The charges against Chen and Feng come a month after federal agents arrested two New York residents on suspicion of operating a Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown district.