NEW YORK—Federal prosecutors have charged two men with attempting to bribe a public official with tens of thousands of dollars in a scheme to help the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “topple” the persecuted faith group Falun Gong.
John Chen, a 70-year-old U.S. citizen born in China, and Lin Feng, a Chinese citizen aged 43, attempted to “manipulate the IRS Whistleblower Program, through bribery and deceit,” in an attempt to strip an entity run and maintained by Falun Gong practitioners of its tax-exempt status, according to court filings unsealed on May 26.
The information they submitted to the IRS is “facially deficient and contains rhetoric similar to the propaganda that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] Government uses to justify its subjugation and harassment of Falun Gong members,” according to the complaint.
Chen and Lin, who reside in California’s Chino City and Los Angeles, respectively, were arrested at their residences early on May 26, a spokesperson from the FBI Los Angeles field office told The Epoch Times.
The two face charges of conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering. Chen was held without bond, and the U.S. Marshals Service will transport him to New York. Lin’s detention hearing was postponed until June 1. He will remain in custody until then, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles told The Epoch Times.
Chen’s lawyer declined to comment.
‘Shocking’ and ‘Insidious’
The action marks the first prosecution by U.S. authorities to deter the Chinese regime from targeting Falun Gong—a meditative practice with core tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—in the United States. In China, the CCP has been severely persecuting the group for the past 23 years.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) indictments also followed the arrest of two individuals allegedly running a secret police station in New York for Beijing. One of the men, according to the Justice Department, organized counter-protests in Washington to demonstrations by Falun Gong practitioners during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s U.S. visit in 2015.
“Efforts to manipulate and use the arms of the U.S. Government to carry out the PRC Government’s autocratic aims are as shocking as they are insidious,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement announcing the charges.
From January to May, Chen and Lin worked under the direction of Chinese officials to engage in a bribery campaign, according to the DOJ. Discussing the plan in a recorded call around Jan. 21, Chen indicated that he aimed to help the CCP “topple” Falun Gong, noting that the Chinese “leadership” would be “very generous” in funding the illicit payments, according to the court document.
According to the DOJ’s complaint, Chen said during a recorded call a week later that “after this … thing is done … reward for work will surely be given at that time.”
In early February, Chen and Lin submitted a “whistleblower complaint,” which Chen would later claim was intended to be for the benefit of U.S. taxpayers, to an IRS office in New Windsor, New York, according to the court filing. That complaint, which repeatedly used the regime’s defamatory language in describing Falun Gong, was “facially deficient,” the filing stated. It also stated that IRS personnel have advised to reject the complaint.
On May 14, the pair met with an undercover agent who posed as an IRS official in a restaurant, promising to pay a total of $50,000 to open an audit on the Falun Gong-related entity, according to the document. In the back seat of the agent’s vehicle, Chen handed the agent a $1,000 cash bribe, in $100 bills, as an initial payment. The agent would receive 60 percent of the whistleblower award from the IRS if the whistleblower complaint was successful, Chen and Lin promised.
On an intercepted call two days earlier, the two said that they would receive “direction” from a Chinese official to carry out the scheme through a China-based encrypted messaging app, then delete the official’s instructions. They planned to “alert” and “sound the alarm” to the Chinese official if the meeting failed to go as planned.
Over the course of the scheme, Chen also warned a contact, who introduced him to the purported tax official and was cooperating with the FBI, to keep the illicit payment plan discreet, according to the court document.
“If you say pay money, [expletive], it’ll leave a trail along the way, and it’ll be troublesome,” Chen allegedly said.
The identity of the Chinese official hasn’t been released, but Chen, in an intercepted call while discussing the scheme, said the official is “the one that is always in charge of these matters,” the DOJ complaint reads. The complaint noted that the repression efforts targeting Falun Gong are centralized from the 610 Office, an extralegal body that for many years maintained a principal location in China’s northeastern megacity Tianjin.
The city’s name came up in a call around May 16, after the agent emailed Chen a document purporting to show his whistleblower complaint being referred to the audit department. Seeing the email, Chen called Lin and asked him to go to New York to deliver the agreed-upon bribe money. Chen said he would “contact Tianjin again.”
In a call with the agent around that day, Chen reaffirmed that the two were carrying out the campaign on behalf of Beijing. According to the filing, Chen told the agent to “trust these friends.”
“They are like blood brothers. We started this fight against [the founder of the Falun Gong] twenty, thirty years ago. They are always with us,” Chen allegedly said. He said “the money is from all of us,” which the FBI investigator says likely refers to the Chinese authorities.
“It is very risky to bring money into the US … need to use some special methods. It needs some time,” Chen said, according to the court document. He explained that he would return to China in June and pay the agent in installments between July and September.
“It’s so much. In the US, ten thousand is over, and one has to declare. Darn it, don’t want to declare,” he said.
Lin handed the undercover agent another $4,000 cash bribe at John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 18 to further the scheme. The same day, Chen told the agent in a call that he would return to China to collect more funding and have Lin deliver it in two $25,000 payments to the agent in New York.
A Threat to ‘Our Democratic System’
The details of the case, according to Falun Dafa Information Center Executive Director Levi Browde, show “how Falun Gong practitioners remain a major target for the CCP’s transnational repression.”
“It also shows the lengths the CCP will go—bribing a tax official to break US law and weaponize U.S. institutions against innocent people—to try to get their way,” he told The Epoch Times.
“We applaud the U.S. government for taking this action, and we encourage it to vigorously pursue CCP agents across the U.S. because they pose a threat not only to Americans who speak out against the atrocities in China, but also to our government officials, and indeed our democratic system itself, all of which is targeted by these illicit schemes.”
Prosecutors said the arrest is their latest effort to confront the Chinese regime’s transnational repression campaign.
“The Chinese government has yet again attempted, and failed, to target critics of the PRC here in the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
He added that 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” and “defend the rights to which every person in the United States is entitled.”
“The Department of Justice continues to expose the Chinese government’s brazen attempts to perpetrate transnational repression, this time through attempted bribery,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said. “As highlighted by today’s arrests and charges of conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering, we will not tolerate efforts by the PRC or any foreign government to intimidate, harass, or undermine the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all who live in the United States.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray said that “China’s government has once again shown its disregard for the rule of law and international norms.” He vowed that his agency will “continue to confront the Chinese government’s efforts to violate our laws and repress the rights and freedoms of people in our country.”
FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director in Charge Donald Alway said the alleged activity is “antithetical to fundamental American values.”
“Those who practice transnational oppression on behalf of the Chinese government must be held accountable,” he said.
Linda Jiang contributed to this report.