27th May 2023 – (Washington) Two Chinese government agents have been arrested by US authorities for their alleged involvement in a plot to disrupt and overthrow the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is exiled and anti-communist. John Chen and Lin Feng, both living in the Los Angeles area, were charged with acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government, bribing a public official, and conspiracy to commit international money laundering. They are accused of scheming to revoke a New York-based Falun Gong organisation‘s tax-exempt status and paying bribes to an undercover officer posing as a US tax agent. The undercover officer recorded multiple conversations with Chen, and investigators obtained a wiretap to record phone calls in which Chen and Feng discussed instructions they purportedly received from Chinese government officials. In one recording, Chen referred to Chinese government officials as “blood brothers,” and in another, he said Beijing would be “very generous” in rewarding the undercover officer’s help in cracking down on Falun Gong‘s non-profit status.
China banned the Falun Gong movement in 1999, classifying it as an evil cult and one of the “Five Poisons,” or chief threats to its rule. Since then, Falun Gong practitioners have found refuge at a 400-acre compound called Dragon Springs in upstate New York. The movement is known mostly in the US for its ties to Shen Yun, a touring performing arts group, and The Epoch Times, a newspaper marketed as an alternative to traditional US media while also coming under fire for amplifying misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Chen and Feng’s arrest comes as part of the US Justice Department‘s efforts to disrupt China’s attempts to identify, locate, and silence pro-democracy activists and others who are openly critical of Beijing’s policies, known as “transnational repression.” The US government has made a series of prosecutions in recent years to combat China’s influence on US soil. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that the Chinese government had yet again attempted and failed to target critics of the People’s Republic of China in the United States.
According to federal prosecutors, Chen and Feng sought to undermine Falun Gong by urging the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the organisation’s non-profit tax status. Chen described Falun Gong as a “gigantic mega cult” in a whistleblower complaint to the tax agency in February, echoing language China’s government uses to describe the movement. They then turned to the undercover officer to make sure the IRS acted on the complaint, offering a $50,000 reward, and handing over $5,000 in cash as a down payment if the tax agency conducted an audit.
Chen met with the officer at a restaurant north of New York City on 14th May. A few days later, the officer sent Chen a letter on fake IRS letterhead that stated the agency had opened a case on Falun Gong, prosecutors said. Chen relayed the news to Feng in a wiretapped phone conversation, indicating that he was planning to updateChinese government officials on their progress.
Chen and Feng’s arrest follows the recent charges against two men who established a secret police station in New York City on behalf of the Chinese government. Federal prosecutors also charged about three dozen officers with China’s national police force with using social media to harass dissidents inside the US. In 2020, the Justice Department charged more than half a dozen people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges.