Two Los Angeles residents were charged in a complaint unsealed Friday in New York with conspiring at the behest of the Chinese government to commit bribery and money laundering in an alleged scheme targeting practitioners of the spiritual practice Falun Gong in the United States.
John Chen, 70, a former Chinese citizen, and Lin Feng, a current Chinese citizen, were both arrested Friday in Southern California, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The Chinese government has yet again attempted, and failed, to target critics of the (People’s Republic of China) here in the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. “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.”
According to federal prosecutors, Chen and Feng operated on orders of an unidentified Chinese government official and engaged in a scheme targeting the tax-exempt status of an entity run and maintained by Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong is condemned by Chinese government officials, and its adherents in China “face a range of repressive and punitive measures from the PRC government, including imprisonment and torture,” according to the Department of Justice.
Prosecutors contend that Chen filed a “defective” whistleblower complaint with the IRS challenging the tax-exempt status of the Falun Gong entity, while Feng allegedly paid $5,000 in cash bribes, and promised to pay more, to a purported IRS agent in exchange for advancing the complaint. The IRS agent was actually an undercover officer, according to the Justice Department.
The defendants were also allegedly caught on a wiretapped call discussing the scheme and identifying the Chinese government official who was orchestrating it, prosecutors said.
The pair allegedly met with the purported IRS agent in New York on May 14, when Chen offered to pay the agent $50,000 to open an audit of the Falun Gong entity, along with 60% of any whistleblower award Chen might receive from the IRS. Feng also allegedly paid the agent an additional $4,000 cash bribe at John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 18.
Prosecutors contend the money for the bribes was provided by the Chinese government.
The pair were both charged with single counts of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General and bribe a public official, acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, bribing a public official and conspiring to commit international money laundering.
The charges combined carry a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.