Face Masks Confiscated by Czech Police Imported by Chinese Businessman With Links to Regime: Report

Face Masks Confiscated by Czech Police Imported by Chinese Businessman With Links to Regime: Report
Face masks sewed by workers of the University hospital are seen, as the spread of the CCP Virus continues in Essen, Germany, on March 30, 2020. (Reuters/Leon Kuegeler)
Cathy He

Hundreds of thousands of face masks recently seized by Czech police in an anti-trafficking operation were imported into the country by an overseas Chinese businessman with close links to Beijing, according to an investigative report by local media.

On March 16, police raided a warehouse of a private company in the northwestern Czech town of Lovosice, where they seized 680,000 masks and 28,000 ventilators. About 100,000 face masks were labeled as Chinese Red Cross aid to Italy.

The medical supplies were imported by Czech-Chinese businessman Zhou Lingjian, a prominent figure in the Chinese regime’s influence operations in the country, Aktuálně.cz reported on March 26.
Zhou runs an influential Czech Chinese-language media outlet, the Prague Chinese Times, and heads the largest overseas Chinese association in the country, the Czech Qingtian Hometown Association. The association is a member of the Czech Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Unification of China, a group known to be a front organization for the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, the agency responsible for the regime’s overseas influence operations.

The revelations come as the Chinese regime ramps up its efforts to portray itself as a humanitarian leader amid the global pandemic. As part of a campaign to divert attention away from its initial mishandling of the CCP Virus outbreak in Wuhan, the regime has dispatched medical experts and sent supplies to hard-hit countries in Europe and elsewhere, in a bid to present itself an exemplar in global containment efforts.

According to Aktuálně.cz, Zhou sold the masks to a Czech reseller who then attempted to sell the supplies to the government at twice the normal cost.

Italy-Czech Dispute

Meanwhile, the confiscated aid to Italy led to a diplomatic spat between the Czech Republic and Italy last week. After an outcry by Italian media over the seizure, the Czech Republic sent 110,000 masks to Italy as compensation.

The Italian embassy said that Czech authorities confirmed that humanitarian aid found in the warehouse was stolen, Czech media Hospodářské noviny reported. Meanwhile, the Czech minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, told Aktuálně.cz that the police raid was targeting an organized group that most likely had committed fraud.

Zhou’s associate, Mr. Yu, told the outlet that the aid was originally supposed to be sent on a direct flight from China to Italy, but was canceled. It was then supposed to be sent by car from Prague to Italy, but this was scrapped after the borders were closed. The outlet noted, however, the Czech border remains open to trucks and cargo.

Mr. Yu added that Zhou sold part of the masks to the Czech reseller at the usual price because he didn’t want to deal directly with the Czech government.

Czech Collection Drive

Back in February, Zhou’s local Chinese association was at the forefront of a Czech collection drive to send medical supplies to China. Zhou collected 780,000 surgical masks and more than 30,000 single-use surgical coats and N95 respirators. He had planned to send the equipment back to China via logistics company Cainiao, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, according to a Feb. 17 report by Chinese state-run news website China Internet Information Center.

But Filip Jirouš, a researcher at the Czech-based China-focused think tank Sinopsis, suggested that the supplies may not have made it to China.

“This created suspicion that the material [seized at the warehouse] is actually from the local Chinese collection,” Jirouš said in a March 26 tweet.
Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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