© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The flags of the United States and China are visible in this illustration photo taken August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Lu/Illustration
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two Los Angeles residents are accused of working in a Beijing-directed scheme targeting U.S. practitioners of the Falun Gong group, which is banned in China, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.
Jun Chen, also known as Chen Jun, and Lin Feng were arrested in California over allegations they supported Chinese efforts to strip the tax-exempt status of a US entity run by Falun Gong practitioners, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry described the scheme as part of a broader campaign by the Chinese government to target its critics based in the United States. The charges were announced a month after federal agents arrested two New Yorkers on suspicion of operating a Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood.
The department said a complaint against Chen and Lin was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York. Reuters was not immediately able to reach them or their lawyers for comment. China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately provide comment.
In 2023, the ministry said, Chen and Lin attempted to bribe an undercover federal agent serving as a US tax official to file a complaint that would strip the Falun Gong entity of federal tax exemptions.
The two paid $5,000 in cash bribes and promised a larger sum to file the complaint with the Internal Revenue Service’s whistleblower program.
The ministry quoted Chen as saying in an intercepted telephone conversation that the bribes were intended to achieve China’s goal of “bringing down… Falun Gong”. Revocation of an entity’s exempt status will increase its federal tax liability.
China banned Falun Gong, which is largely based on meditation, in 1999 after 10,000 members of the Central Command Council in Beijing showed up in silent protest. The group called on people to abandon the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese government has described the group as a cult organization that threatens national stability.