Washington, Jul 23 (efe-epa).- US authorities arrested three Chinese researchers for alleged fraud in applying for visas and are seeking a fourth who has apparently taken refuge inside Beijing’s San Francisco consulate, the Department of Justice reported Thursday.
The arrests were made known after the Donald Trump administration ordered China to close its consulate in Houston amid new US accusations of espionage, one of the most aggressive moves taken by Washington since reestablishing diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979.
In a statement, the DOJ said that four people were indicted for visa fraud linked to a plan to lie about their affiliations with China’s military, specifically the People’s Liberation Army, while they were performing research in the US.
Three of the researchers were arrested and the FBI is seeking a fourth fugitive from justice who is currently inside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, the DOJ said.
The department said that the suspects are part of a Chinese campaign to “infiltrate” US institutions to acquire scientific and technological knowledge.
“This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, adding that the suspects requested research visas but hid their ties with the PLA.
If found guilty, the suspects could each face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The DOJ identified Wang Xin as one of the accused, noting that he entered the country on March 26, 2019, and presumably made fraudulent declarations when requesting the required visa.
According to court documents, Wang was still a member of the PLA as he was studying in the US and made false statements about his military service.
He was arrested on June 7 and appeared in court one day later, the DOJ said.
The other two arrested suspects were taken into custody on July 18, and although the DOJ did not say where they were apprehended they were identified as Song Chen and Zhao Kaikai, both of whom are accused of hiding their military ties from US authorities.
The department also said that it is seeking Tang Juan, a female researcher who arrived in the US in December 2019 and is accused of making false statements regarding her Chinese military service on her visa application.
In addition to the arrests, the DOJ said that the FBI recently questioned other visa holders suspected of having undeclared links to the Chinese military in more than 25 US cities.
In recent months, the US has sanctioned 11 Chinese companies for committing abuses against Muslim minorities in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang and has filed charges against two Chinese hackers for allegedly trying to steal Covid-19 vaccine data and US military technology secrets.
Meanwhile Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the US government “has continually monitored, harassed and even arbitrarily detained Chinese students and scholars in the US, and accused Chinese scholars on the presumption of guilt,” adding that “China will take necessary measures to safeguard Chinese citizens’ safety and legitimate rights.”