Feds indict elderly Flushing scholar who allegedly spied on Chinese pro-democracy activists and dissidents in Queens

Flushing Chinese
Flushing resident Shujun Wang was indicted Tuesday on conspiracy and other charges related to an espionage scheme in Queens, following his arrest in March announced by U.S. Attorney Breon Peace. (Photo courtesy of EDNY)

An indictment was returned Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court charging Flushing resident Shujun Wang, a 73-year old U.S. citizen, and four officials from China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), with conspiracy and other charges related to an espionage and transnational repression scheme according to federal prosecutors.

Wang is a well-known academic and author who helped start a pro-democracy organization in Queens that opposes the current communist regime in China who allegedly used his position and status within the Chinese diaspora and dissident communities to covertly collect information about prominent activists and human rights leaders on behalf of the MSS and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since at least 2011, according to the indictment.

“As alleged, Wang acted as a covert intelligence asset in his own community, spying and reporting sensitive information on prominent pro-democracy activists and organizations to his co-defendants: members of the Chinese government’s Ministry of State Security,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. “Today’s indictment exposes and disrupts an operation by the PRC that threatens the safety and freedom of Chinese nationals residing in the United States on account of their pro-democracy beliefs and speech.”

Wang was previously arrested on March 16 pursuant to a criminal complaint, and he will be arraigned at a later date. Prosecutors added that the victims of Wang’s efforts included Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, advocates for Taiwanese independence and Uyghur and Tibetan activists in Queens, the U.S. and abroad.

According to the indictment, in a series of communications on Nov. 22, 2016, Wang’s MSS handler instructed him to meet with a particular attendee at a pro-democracy event in Queens and to “accomplish the task” assigned by the “boss.” The MSS handler emphasized that the attendee had contacts with ‘Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians.”

Similarly, on Nov. 6, 2016, Wang informed another MSS handler that he “just finished chatting” with a prominent human rights activist and had asked the “necessary questions” and received “candid” answers. The MSS officer responded “great” and with a thumbs-up emoji, instructing Wang to record that information in his email diary.

“Working for the People’s Republic of China, we allege Wang participated in a pro-democracy organization with the insidious intent to spy on those he joined,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. “He targeted dissidents living in the United States, putting their lives at risk. The Chinese government has proven time and again it is willing to overlook our laws to hunt down those who speak out against the regime. We are working aggressively with our law enforcement partners to thwart these actions, and we hope those who fear for their safety will reach out to us.”

The indictment also alleges that Wang transferred to the MSS and possessed telephone numbers and contact information belonging to Chinese dissidents, as well as made materially false statements to federal law enforcement, falsely denying that he had contacts with PRC officials or the MSS.

“We will not tolerate efforts by the PRC or any authoritarian government to export repressive measures to our country,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said. “These charges demonstrate the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to hold accountable all those who violate our laws in seeking to suppress dissenting voices within the United States and to prevent our residents from exercising their lawful rights.”