Over the years, thousands of New Yorkers and tourists have passed by an unassuming office building in Lower Manhattan. On Monday, federal prosecutors unsealed criminal charges against the two men, accusing them of helping run an unauthorized Chinese police outpost, one of more than 100 around the world used to intimidate and control Chinese citizens overseas, and crack down on criticism of the ruling Communist Party.
Both men were arrested on Monday and charged with conspiracy to act as agents of the Chinese government and obstruction of justice. They allegedly used the police outpost to intimidate Chinese dissidents living in the US on behalf of China.
Charges were also released in two related cases: one against 34 Chinese police officers accused of harassing Chinese nationals living in the New York area, and another against eight Chinese officers accused of directing the removal of a China-based Zoom employee from the platform.
Court documents say the Manhattan police outpost was overseen by the Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau, a branch of China’s Ministry of Public Security. It is one that unnerves diplomats and intelligence officials in such operations around the world.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, this is the first time criminal charges have been brought against such a police outpost.
The charges against Lu Jianwang, 61, also known as Harry Lu, and Chen Jinping, 59, emerged from an investigation by the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office.
“Today’s indictments are a clear response to the PRC that we are with you, we know what you are doing, and we will prevent it from happening in the United States,” said Brian S. Pease said. , using the abbreviation People’s Republic of China. “We don’t need or want an undercover police station in our great city.”
Officials have described the three incidents as part of a global effort to crack down on criticism of China’s government.
“The People’s Republic of China, through its Ministry of Public Security, is engaged in a multi-front campaign to expand the reach and influence of its authoritarian system in the United States and around the world,” said David Newman, the Justice Department’s top national. Security Officer in Washington.
FBI counterintelligence agents searched the police outpost, located on the third floor of a glass-enclosed building at 107 East Broadway, as part of their investigation last fall.
The six-story office building, on a busy street on the edge of Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, is lined with restaurants, seafood shops, electronics stores and other businesses, as well as an acupuncturist, an engineering firm and an accounting firm.
The search intensified amid global controversy over China’s efforts to police migrants beyond its borders.
Officials in Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands have called on China to halt similar activities in their countries. The FBI raid in New York was the first known example of authorities seizing items from an outpost.
Mr. Lu and Mr. Chen was charged with obstruction of justice and accused of destroying text messages between himself and his handler at the Department of Public Safety in October 2022 during an FBI search.
They were also charged with conspiring to act as agents of the People’s Republic of China without registering with the Department of Justice, as required by law.
At a news conference in Brooklyn on Monday, Mr. Pease, Mr. The charges were announced by Newman and FBI Assistant Director Michael Driscoll, who leads the New York office.
Mr. also known as Harry Lou. Lu lives in the Bronx and maintains a residence in China. Mr Chen lives in Manhattan. Both are US citizens and were released on bail after appearing before a magistrate judge on Monday afternoon.
Relatives of the men declined to comment. Mr. Chen’s court-appointed attorney, Susan G. Gelman said she worked as a home health aide and had no property to use as collateral.
In 2018 IRS filings, Mr. Lew was listed as president of a nonprofit organization called the America Chandler Association NY, whose offices housed the police outpost.
A criminal complaint unsealed Monday says the group was formed in 2013 and lists its charitable work as a “community gathering place” for people from the Chinese city of Fuzhou. General Counsel of the Society Mr. Lu and Mr. as its General Secretary. The complaint states that Sen is also working.
When news of the FBI’s search of the Manhattan office first broke in January, the Chinese Embassy in Washington said it had reduced the role of police outposts and staffed them with volunteers who help Chinese nationals perform routine tasks, such as renewing their driver’s licenses back home.
But U.S. officials said they were clearly focused on monitoring members of the Chinese diaspora and violating their free speech rights.
“It is our belief that the ultimate purpose of this illegal police station is to protect and not to serve,” said Mr. Driscoll said, “Silencing, harassing and intimidating individuals in the United States.”
The other two cases revolved around political speech in the digital sphere. But all of the defendants are believed to be in China, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Prosecutors expanded a lawsuit first filed in 2020 against Jinjiang Jin, a former China-based executive at video conferencing company Zoom, accusing him of disrupting and censoring commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The amended complaint, unsealed Monday, expands the charges to eight Chinese officials and prosecutors say another person directed the operation.
The rest of the case accused 34 officials of China’s Ministry of Public Security of running a “troll farm” to attack Chinese protesters, sow division and spread disinformation. The officers were part of an elite task force known as the 912 Special Operations Task Force, prosecutors said.
The group allegedly created thousands of fake profiles on social media sites including Twitter and spread propaganda on topics such as human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and unrest after the police killing of George Floyd. COVID-19.