March 17, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
A 73-year-old Flushing scholar — who helped establish a pro-democracy group in Queens — is one of five defendants who have been charged with spying on Chinese dissidents in the United States.
Shujun Wang was arrested Wednesday and charged in Brooklyn federal court for secretly working with the Chinese government to weed out and silence opponents of the Chinese Communist Party regime living in Queens, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Wang, a naturalized American citizen from China, founded a pro-democracy organization called the Memorial Foundation in Flushing in 2016 but instead used it as a means to collect information about prominent U.S.- based dissidents—and then report his findings back to the Chinese government, prosecutors said.
He allegedly sent statements activists made about the Chinese government back to the country’s secret police force, known as the Ministry of State Security (MSS). He also told the MSS about planned speeches, writings and demonstrations against the Chinese Communist Party taking place in New York.
Wang allegedly spied on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, advocates for Taiwanese independence as well as Uyghur and Tibetan activists. One dissident Wang spied on was arrested in Hong Kong in April 2020 and jailed on political charges.
Prosecutors said that all five defendants allegedly took part in “transnational repression schemes” that targeted U.S. residents whose political views and actions were unfavorable to the Chinese government, such as advocating for democracy in China. The spies also allegedly stalked and harassed their victims.
“The Ministry of State Security is more than an intelligence collection agency, it executes the Chinese government’s efforts to limit free speech, attack dissidents and preserve the power of the Communist Party,” FBI Assistant Director Kohler said.
“When it exports those actions overseas, it violates the fundamental sovereignty of the U.S. and becomes a national security threat.”
Wang initially came to the United States in 1994 as a visiting scholar at a New York City university before becoming a naturalized American citizen in 2003.
He used the Memorial Foundation he founded and his standing among the Chinese diaspora in New York to gather information critical of the Chinese government, prosecutors said.
Wang sent email “diaries” to the MSS that contained details of his conversations with prominent dissidents, their activities and contact information so the Chinese government could target them, prosecutors said.
Additionally, Wang flew from China to J.F.K. Airport in 2019 carrying a handwritten document with the names and contact information for dozens of other well-known Chinese dissidents, including Hong Kong democracy activists who were subsequently arrested by the Chinese government.
According to the criminal complaint, Wang is also charged with making false statements about the spying scheme to federal law enforcement during an interview in 2017. He allegedly denied he had been in contact with Chinese officials when he had been secretly reporting on U.S. residents to the MSS.
He later admitted to much of his criminal conduct to an undercover officer and during a subsequent interview with agents, prosecutors said.
Wang faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Fan “Frank” Liu, 62 and Matthew Zuburis, 49, were also arrested Tuesday as part of the spying scheme and charged on a separate complaint in Brooklyn federal court. They are both from Nassau County.
Meanwhile, defendants Qiang “Jason” Sun, 40, and Qiming Lin, 59, remain at large. They are listed as being citizens and residents of China.
In September, Lin hired a private investigator to undermine the campaign of a Chinese dissident who is currently running for Congress in a seat on Long Island. Although the court documents do not identify the victim, a New York Times source identified Xiong Yan as the dissident Lin was targeting.
The plot involved digging up derogatory information on Yan and then trying to honeytrap him with prostitutes after finding he had no skeletons in his closet.
Yan was a student leader in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989. He later escaped to the United States, served in the U.S. military and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Other plots the defendants were involved in included attempting to obtain dissidents’ personal information, such as copies of their passports and U.S. social security numbers.