“Fuck! Two years or three years, screw you, they will get you when it’s time”

About 26 pages into a 40-page indictment of Quanzhong An and his daughter Guangyang An — which was obtained last week but rolled out at a press conference yesterday — the indictment shifts tracks dramatically.

Up until that point, it lays out in detail An’s role in China’s efforts, dating back to 2002, to convince John Doe-1 and his son, referred to as John Doe-2 in the indictment, to return to China. But then at page 26, it starts to lay out alleged money laundering, showing how Quanzhong An transferred almost $4 million from China to the US over six years by transferring it in increments at or just under $50,000 in the name of family members.

From in or about 2016 through the present, the defendants QUANZHONG AN and GUANYANG AN conspired with others to engage in a money laundering scheme. During this period, the conspirators sent and caused to be sent millions of dollars in wire transfers from the PRC to the United States. As these activities violated applicable PRC law regarding capital flight — which imposed a limit of $50,000 per person annually for total foreign exchange settlement — the conspirators engaged in deceptive tactics designed to frustrate and impede the Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) controls of the U.S. financial institutions, so that the defendants and the coconspirators could enjoy continued access to the U.S.-based bank accounts.

Here’s what a fraction of the transfers look like.

To be clear, the reason these transfers were made in $50,000 increments was to comply with Chinese transfer restrictions, not US ones. This is charged as money laundering in the US because (as the indictment notes) it involved false statements to banks and layering and other tactics to hide the ruse. But it also appears to be a violation of Chinese law, the same kind of law that the person targeted for repatriation by An allegedly violated.

As FBI Director Chris Wray noted at yesterday’s press conference,

Two of the subjects who targeted him, two of the defendants charged today, are themselves actually involved in a scheme to launder millions of dollars. And as if that weren’t enough evidence that the real purpose of their operation was political, they gave their victim a deadline to return by: the 20th CCP Congress earlier this month.

The money laundering belies the claim that China is pushing for John Doe-1’s repatriation out of some concern about financial corruption.

It may provide context, too, to details earlier in the indictment that described how An became involved in efforts to coerce John Doe-1 to return to China. As described, his efforts to lure John Doe-1 back to China started in 2017, when he showed up at John Doe-1’s home to locate him and his son. A year later, his daughter Guangyang accompanied a family member’s boss to the house in 2018, where they left a note and were captured on John Doe-1’s security camera, as shown in the picture.

In August 2019, one of the Chinese-based co-conspirators sent a message to John Doe-1 claiming that An was just helping out out of patriotism.

An Quanzhong is a patriotic businessman in the U.S. and the head of the Chinese Business Association of New York. He was originally from Zaozhuang, Shandong, and has given strong support to the government’s work. He is willing to communicate with [John Doe-1] and pay for [John Doe-1] to help the government recover the loss without anything in return. At the same time, he is willing to provide enough funds to guarantee [John Doe-1’s] return and cover his expenses needed to return home.

Starting in 2020, An started meeting with the son, John Doe-2, meetings which were consensually recorded (meaning either the FBI was already involved or John Doe-2 is really smart).

At a January 2020 meeting, An explained to the son what he was up to, admitted to the 2017 visit to the house, and explained that he would pay the money John Doe-1 allegedly owes to the Chinese state and put him up in his Chinese home if he returned.  John Doe-2 asked why he was willing to pay that amount, and An explained that he was trying to get the Chinese government to view him as a good guy.

QUANZHONG AN responded that he had donated over 100 million yuan to the PRC government the previous year and that the PRC government “will be very happy if this thing is settle[d].” QUANZHONG AN boasted that, if he assisted with John Doe-1’s repatriation, the PRC government “will not see [QUANZHONG AN] as a bad guy because [he has] done so many good things, even donating money to society.”

In a July 2021 meeting with John Doe-2, also lawfully monitored, An repeated the promise that John Doe-1 would not be detained if he returned, then explained he was involved in part because of his business interests.

QUANZHONG AN also acknowledged how his business interests prompted his involvement in John Doe-1’s case. QUANZHONG AN explained, “[A]s you know, there are many ways to make it work in China. It’s hard to do business in China.” QUANZHONG AN claimed that he had succeeded by making donations to the PRC government. QUANZHONG AN further claimed that “he had donated over 300 million yuan over the years to the PRC government.”

In a July 2022 call that An brokered to take place at a hotel he owns in Flushing, one of the Chinese co-conspirators told John Doe-2 that he should return before the Party Conference (the October 20 arrest took place in the middle of it, which spanned from October 16 to October 22), because, “In case there is a change, I am afraid that it doesn’t work in favor of the old man” (which I believe is a reference to John Doe-1’s father, in China).

In recent weeks, the detention motion for the father and daughter describes, An met with John Doe-2 again, this time with a confession for John Doe-1 to sign in advance of the Party Congress.

More recently, Quanzhong An met with John Doe-2 again on September 29, 2022. During this meeting, Quanzhong An pressed for John Doe-1 to execute an agreement to return to the PRC in advance of the CCP’s 20th National Congress, which began on October 16, 2022. As part of such agreement, Quanzhong An sought a written confession from John Doe-1, which would be submitted directly to the PRC government. This morning, incident to Quanzhong An’s arrest, agents located a photograph of what appears to be a sample confession for John Doe-1 to use.

Instead of returning, the implication is, DOJ finalized this indictment on October 7, and the FBI arrested An and his daughter. The indictment includes two forfeiture provisions, and lists three properties. After his arrest last week, An was given a CJA attorney, suggesting the considerable assets he has in the US may be tied up in those forfeitures.

In other words, this appears to be a story of how the Chinese government used An’s own violations of Chinese law not to rein him in, but to coerce him to pursue the return of a long-sought exile. The US government is effectively using the leverage China had over An, because of his alleged money laundering, to impose far greater penalties — both financially and (because of stiff penalties on money laundering) in terms of criminal exposure — on his involvement in the matter here in the US.

This was one of three charging documents rolled out yesterday in a very high-level press conference involving Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, National Security Division head Matthew Olsen, and FBI Director Chris Wray. Those three sets of charges are:

  • Charging two suspected Chinese intelligence officers — both in China — who paid a double agent for what they believed was secret information pertaining to the 2018 prosecution of Huawei on racketeering charges. (press release)
  • Charging four Ministry of State Security officers — all in China — in conjunction with their unsuccessful attempt to recruit a former law enforcement officer while on two trips to China (one in 2008, the second in 2018) and their successful recruitment of an unnamed and uncharged US permanent resident co-conspirator who took actions in New Jersey. (press release)
  • As noted, the indictment charging US permanent resident Quanzhong An, his US citizen daughter Guangyang An, along with five Chinese based individuals, four of whom are members of the Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection for their efforts to lure a long-term US resident back to China. (press release, which was issued on the day of arrest, October 20)

On their face, the charges seemed quite unrelated (indeed, Wray acknowledged as much). On its face, the press conference seemed to be another of the showy ones designed to get attention precisely because most of those affected are overseas, out of the reach of law enforcement. (Compare that press conference to the more discreet rollout of the three indictments targeting Oleg Deripaska and his associates, charges that take more overt cooperation with other countries, to say nothing of even more juggling of ongoing sensitivities.)

Which raises the question of why now, why these cases. In response to a direct question about whether the timing of this related to the party conference — mentioned in the An indictment and in Wray’s prepared remarks — that solidified Xi Jinpeng’s third term, Wray said only that, “we bring cases when we’re ready.”

It may be that An was lured back to the US for his arrest based on that timing, which would in turn explain the timing of that arrest (which was announced, though not docketed, last week). But that would only explain why that case was rolled out, and it was already public last week.

An and his daughter are the only people described to be arrested in these documents.

But there is a Co-Conspirator-1 named in the New Jersey indictment (which was filed on October 20, the same day the An arrest took place) whose apparent US presence is unexplained in the indictment and yesterday’s press conference.

That indictment seems like it’s an investigation that started when a former law enforcement officer was recruited in China in 2008, which alerted the US government to the identity of Wang Lin, who in 2016 traveled to the Bahamas to begin recruiting CC-1, first by tasking him or her with delivering a $35,000 payment in the US. Then, in 2016, another of the co-conspirators, Wang Qiang, traveled with CC-1’s Chinese family members and had a series of discussions about working for China. In one, Wang expressed concern that the US had planted surveillance equipment on one of his phones at the airport.

During the same conversation, CC-1 also discussed with CC-l’s two family members, in sum and substance, what s/he believed to be the United States’ surveillance capabilities. CC-1 also told her/his family members that WANG QIANG had expressed concern when he (WANG QIANG) entered the United States that customs officials had installed surveillance equipment on one of his telephones at the airport, and that WANG QIANG was concerned about numbers for several contacts in North Korea that he had in his phones. CC-1 stated, in sum and substance, that WANG QIANG was “a low-level” official and should not have been concerned that he would be known to United States authorities.

It seems Wang was right to be concerned, because a series of damning conversations involving Wang and CC-1 were “lawfully recorded.”

WANG and CC-1 continued to discuss working on behalf of the PRC and obtaining information for the PRC in furtherance of its intelligence-gathering operations. Among other things, CC-1 stated thats/he “like(s) to do it,” meaning working for the PRC. CC-1 complained, however, that “[it] would be fine if there were more money.” CC-1 continued, stating, “It will work if you can truly pull off something big, things like the fucking U.S. high tech, anything that is important, right?” CC-1 then stated that “We are the ones who do the fucking work.” CC-1 also noted that “it is just a business,” that “they pay you for each job done,” and that “they will pay you again if they use you again.”

WANG QIANG and CC-1 continued to express fear about getting caught. Indeed, CC-1 stated thats/he did not “want to get into any trouble now.” CC-1 advised WANG QIANG, “If you don’t need to travel, it should be safe to stay in China. If you need to travel, fuck! The U.S. is very capable, I am telling you. You can’t run away from them.” CC-1 continued, “The Americans are really capable. Fuck! Two years or three years, screw you, they will get you when it’s time. . . . On the other hand, I have no use to them if I go back. I have no use to them if I go back to China.” During the conversation, WANG QIANG stated his belief that individuals working for the PRC “will be abandoned in the future.” [my emphasis]

There’s no other explanation for what happened with CC-1. And absent a 2018 offer to the law enforcement officer on a trip to China in 2018, these charges would be time-barred; I wonder whether that former law enforcement officer has a tie to the double agent described in the Huawei indictment (though timing wise, he cannot be the same person). Of that double agent from the Huawai case, Wray yesterday said, “we very rarely get a chance to publicly thank” double agents working in operations targeting China and other foreign countries.

But the pattern shown in the An indictment holds: the recruitment via Chinese associates using family ties of permanent residents in the US.

That is, at least two of these indictments appear to be based off far deeper investigative work than that FBI had previously pursued, in which they tried to catch scholars in false statements regarding dual Chinese and US-funding.

At yesterday’s press conference, someone asked (seemingly pointing to the ongoing threat of espionage from China), “Was it a mistake to get rid of the China initiative?”

The China Initiative was a Trump Administration effort that resulted in a series of high profile failed prosecutions and that sowed discrimination against Chinese and Chinese-Americans working in technical roles.

Garland responded by saying that,

These cases make quite clear we are unrelenting in our efforts to prevent the government of China from economic espionage, from operating in the United States as foreign agents, from trying to affect our rule of law, our judicial system, from trying to target or recruit Americans to help them … we have not in any way changed our focus on those kind of behaviors by China.

Olsen added,

We have stayed very focused on the threat that PRC poses to our values, to our institutions. We speak through our cases, and we speak to those cases today. I think what we are charging today in terms of the range and persistence of the threat that we see from the PRC demonstrates that we have remained relentless on that threat and we will continue to be focused on that threat going forward.

Asked by the same apparent Trump booster whether he had just gotten rid of the name, Olsen responded,

We ended the China Initiative earlier this year after a lengthy review and adopted a broader strategy focused on the range of threats that we face from a variety of nation-states, and that’s the strategy we’re carrying forward.

What DOJ spoke through its cases yesterday suggests they’re using longer-term operations to target a more fundamental recruiting effort and only unwinding them, one by one, as such interlocking efforts require it.

Update: In juggling some quotes I cut the part from which the title comes. I’ve added it back in (h/t higgs boson) and fixed another detail.

37 replies
  1. Daniel anthony Byrnes says:

    May i say I’m hoping that somehow this leads to the Chinese massage lady from Mar-a-lago. Ok, I said that, and so, I’m out here.

    • Kathy says:

      I agree! I’m sure it’s not a co-incidence that trump snatched China and Iran nuclear docs, had Chinese intruders (twice?), and the massage lady. It’s all related…somehow.

  2. TooLoose LeTruck says:

    “the Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection”…

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read that…

    How… how… Kafkaesque can you get?

  3. Ian says:

    Just as an FYI… if you reference an uncommon acronym, such as “CJA attorney”, can you spell it out as well? I googled it and the first thing Google did was ask if they could use my location! I presume that’s because they think that anyone asking about a “Criminal Justice Act attorney” needs one…

    • bmaz says:

      Heh, you are lucky Marcy used “CJA attorney”, I usually use “Panel Attorney” which would likely be harder to suss out. Just change your privacy/location settings in Google!

        • icarustpenguin says:

          Firefox with Duckduckgo is what I use, also privacy badger, and a home page that is on one of my hard drives. That way I reduce the times I go from one internet site to another.

          And a home page with my my favorite websites is pretty nice, especially since it is hosted by me only.

        • bmaz says:

          What does that have to do with the apparent fact some people do not know phrases we have been using for 16 years?

        • Rayne says:

          I’ve refused to use DuckDuckGo since they first partnered with Russian search engine Yandex. Can’t recall exactly when but sometime between 2012 and 2014 DuckDuckGo actually posted at the bottom of their site they proudly partnered with Yandex. No idea what the terms of that partnership have been.

          The partnership only this year was suspended this spring because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the CEO claims it’s because it doesn’t want to share misinfo from Yandex sources, I have a strong suspicion the company didn’t want to end up getting labeled a foreign agent like RT-America and required to register as one.

          I haven’t used Opera since a Chinese consortium bought it. Brave is the most private browser, but even it has had some controversies.

            • Ginevra diBenci says:

              I’ve stayed with Firefox too. Despite its troglodyte image, it works for me. As soon as DuckDuckGo’s seedy backstory emerged (for me that was here, first, thanks to Rayne’s eagle eye) I moved it to the figurative trash.

  4. Silly but True says:

    From June 2022 Radio Free Asia report on Safeguard Defenders investigation:
    “Between the launch of the SkyNet program in 2014 and June 2021, China repatriated nearly 10,000 people from 120 countries and regions. Yet according to Safeguard Defenders, just one percent are brought back to China using judicial procedures; more than 60 percent are just put on a plane against their will.”

    SkyNet is China’s global dissident surveillance program.

    Foxhunt is China’s global dissident “repatriation” (“extrajudicial kidnapping”) program.

    Safeguard Defenders is an overseas rights group:
    “The story behind Safeguard Defenders goes back to 2009, the year when a small NGO called China Action was founded in Beijing by human rights activists Peter Dahlin from Sweden and Michael Caster from the U.S. and a small group of Chinese rights lawyers and other human rights defenders (HRD).

    Its mission was to support China’s fledging lawyer community…”

  5. higgs boson says:

    Sorry to be “that guy”, but I’m wondering if something got left out by mistake? The headline quotation seems like something that would be referenced later on.

    And at the end of paragraph 16 there’s a parenthetical: (Compare that press conference to the more discreet rollout of the three indictments targeting Oleg Deripaska and his associates, charges that take more overt cooperation with other countries, to say nothing of even more .). Should there be something more after “even more”?

    (I need to figure out how to do blockquotes)

    • emptywheel says:

      Not “that guy”!!

      I cut off the best quote. Thank you! I’ve fixed both things, I think, and bolded the quote from which the title comes.

  6. Winterspring Summerfall says:

    (first time poster)
    “[A]s you know, there are many ways to make it work in China. It’s hard to do business in China.” QUANZHONG AN claimed that he had succeeded by making donations to the PRC government. QUANZHONG AN further claimed that “he had donated over 300 million yuan over the years to the PRC government.”

    This really struck me as a novel idea (trying to imagine how one would make a donation to the government), until I realized that people do similar here, except the donations are not to the government, but to political candidates, or PACs.

    • timbozone says:

      Are we talking about donations or “donations” here?

      You can legally give money, as a donation, directly to government agencies and organizations at the local, county, state, and federal levels. The practice is quite common in areas the tax laws provided significant benefit to the private entity doing the donating. But that does not straighten out/clarify what is meant by alleged “donation” to PRC entities in the context of these recent arrests—are they legal donations or bribes the An is talking about in these transcripts? Without access to all the information and comms for this case, and without access to PRC information relative to the case, it’s impossible to make a judgement one way or the other there, right?

  7. DSkywalker says:

    Finally I have something worth saying to this esteemed community.
    I’ve got 25 years as voluntary translator for all kinds of mainland Chinese minyunfenzi. I only can help in Mandarin fortunately that’s the language of the school system in PRC so I can do my best thru any accent of any minimally educated PRC individual. However so much of the Real Relationships among Chinese people are in their local dialects (Beijingren is an exception). So for the FBI to announce this string of investigations including the July 2022 “Transnational Repression Scheme” means there are MASSIVE language skill resources alongside the typical field agents.
    No word yet on website from the best outfit in the world on dissident activities now SafeguardDefenders.com but that will be good resource over time for piecing some more open source intel together.

    They are making bold statements about PRC nationals either state sponsored agents or coerced individuals (perhaps like the An father/daughter team here but its not clear yet) establishing so-called Overseas Police Service Centers. Note that CCDI is named in original PRC source documents below so please understand that its not some Orwellian imagined fictional turn-of-phrase – its the secret police within the CCP itself to ‘discipline’ its own. For the average Westerner there is no real distinction between “Chinese secret agents” from United Front organizations or State Security or CCDI but the bureaucratic danwei back in China may indicate (at minimum) lapsed Communists with previous Party membership, actual Party officials or family on the run or other Bad Elements in the eyes of the Party.


    Between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China “voluntarily” (while admitting not all the targets have committed any crimes);
    Established Nine forbidden (read: Southeast Asian) countries, where Chinese nationals are no longer allowed to live unless they have “good reason”;
    New tools for “persuasion” operations laid down on paper, including denying the target’s children in China the right to education, and other limitations on family members, punishing those without suspicion of any wrongdoing by “guilt by association” (similar to the North Korean practice), and
    It also includes government documents stating relatives in China that do not help police “persuade” targets should be investigated and punished by either police or the internal Party police the CCDI;
    The establishment of at least 54 police-run “overseas police service centers” across five continents, some of which are implicated in collaborating with Chinese police in carrying out policing operations on foreign soil (including in Spain).
    A new law adopted 2 September, going into effect 1 December, establishes full extraterritoriality over Chinese and foreigners globally for certain crimes (fraud, telecom fraud, online scams, etc.);

    The timing of course is interesting and cannot be a coincidence. But IMO the bigger underlying story may be FBI showing greater understanding of these state sanctioned ‘centers’ and non-official actors running all over the place.
    SafeguardDefenders on Twitter points to Canadian Broadcast Corp story today on RCMP investigations into Overseas Centers in Toronto.

    Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. The Former Administration activities on countering China were not exclusively based on racism. IMO Garland and the heavy hitters doing this publicly after the Party Congress reflects the reality that the USA is fully engaged in hand to hand combat with the Chinese state party tentacles. Sorry for the mixed metaphor after a long comment.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for sharing this insight. I’ve been stewing on both the presence of at least one “overseas police service center” here in the US and the awkward removal of Hu Jintao from the Party Congress this past week — displays of concentrated power both inside and outside China/

      • DSkywalker says:

        I missed that MOC letter in my brief “research” in the original post. Thanks for drawing to my attention.

        In the Clinton years there was a true rainbow coalition in Congress (I have a photo somewhere of me standing between Wellstone and Helms) who hosted exchanges with Chinese exiles. Among the signatories in this 2022 letter the only name I recognize from that era is Chris Smith who is at core a Forced Birth Enforcer so being confrontational on China is an extension of that crusade. Interestingly the Dem leader who loosely remains in the present rump coalition is Speaker Pelosi herself. Nancy would stand in China meetings and point at Clinton then in the same way as that famous picture of her blasting TFG. I witnessed first hand in the office of Michael Ledeen the moment that coalition fell apart: after 9/11 all the drumbeating anti-China Rs immediately became chest thumping anti-Muslim Rs because thats where the money was. From my limited perspective, the remnants of that Congressional coalition are still engaged on “ethnic’ human rights issues like hosting the Dalai Lama’s reps or the Uighur community interests. I read this Republican Study Group letter as opportunistic partisan attack unless evidence of deeper commitments from the Rs emerge.

        I have nothing more to offer about the Xi Manhandles Hu exhibition than vapid speculation. Every high price China Watcher in the West has experienced a political earthquake however: just as Putin became leader for life and the Big Lie Coup plotters here want a leader for life, the ’10 Year Rule’ assumption surrounding how the Party manages its successions is no more. Xi has thoroughly transformed CCP governance to reverse the Deng era efforts to de-personalize and normalize leadership struggles. Democratic Centralism with Emperor Xi At the Center is the only lasting conclusion no matter what happens to Hu as an individual.

        I wished we all were living in less interesting times.

    • emptywheel says:

      There was some interesting discussion in the An indictment about their mutual ties to Shandong, and also the difference between the various level of government that pursues these repatriations.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      DSkywalker, thank you for sharing these insights and background information. I usually find long comments hard to read (especially without paragraph breaks) but your understanding of the complexities of Chinese language/dialects, and your speculation that our intelligence agencies have developed significant mastery of these complex linguistic challenges, proved fascinating.

      Please tell us more. I will be looking for your comments.

  8. JVO says:

    Not a single mention of this anywhere in the “news” that comes across my screens except EW!
    How could that be?!

  9. Village idiot says:

    The post says:
    “… a former law enforcement officer was recruited in China in 2008, which alerted the US government …”, and later observes “And absent a 2018 offer to the law enforcement officer on a trip to China in 2018 …”. Are they the same LEO?

  10. pdaly says:

    Mr. Quanzhong An’s unsuccessful pestering of John Doe-2 repeatedly over the years to talk to John Doe-2’s father (John Doe-1) reads like a remake of Groundhog Day –with federal crimes attached.
    Each time their predictable conversation ends without John Doe-1 appearing, and then in the next instant Mr. An is contacting John Doe-2 again and asking John Doe-2 to put him in touch with John Doe-1. Tape recorder keeping time.

    If John Doe-1 is sharing a house with his son, I admire the “Doe” family’s ability to keep John Doe-1 hidden with every reattempt by Mr. An, Ms. An, and their PRC friends to find John Doe-1.

  11. Legonaut says:

    There’s been no mention of embassy involvement (yet), but this whole thing seems to have a whiff of MBS/Kashoggi about it. Or Novochoking a dissident’s doorknob. I’d like to think the PRC wouldn’t crap their bed that way in the U.S., but I shudder to think what they’re doing elsewhere.

    Of course, as CC-1 believes, we’re probably pretty good at renditions ourselves. Maybe I’m just hopelessly naive.

    • Silly but True says:

      Same. There are no different rules for rich elites like John Doe-1 in the system.

      It’s most likely a work camp than a vat of hydroflouric acid, and the give-away is use of confessions. His future with any Communist China return would likely involve shaming and labor in a work camp before public contrition. Although death after he publicly acknowledges his own guilt isn’t out of realm of possibilities, either.

  12. scribe says:

    As to “Why now?”, two reasons.
    1. Like the man said, they will bring no case before its time. What that boils down to is either a branch of the briar patch that is Chinese influence work in the US has run its course, so they can bring in all the cases stemming from that branch, or the statute is going to run.
    2. Things are going sideways with China a lot more quickly than anyone would like to admit. That Xi is going down the full-on Mao road bodes ill for everyone. Mao was probably the bloodiest mass killer in history, and that was a direct result of his being on top so long. Xi will turn out much the same, only a lot of his killing will be directed outside the country, too.

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