A Singaporean man has pleaded guilty to using his political consultancy in the United States as a front to collect information for Chinese intelligence, according to the US Department of Justice.
In a statement on Friday, the department said Jun Wei Yeo, who is also known as Dickson Yeo, entered his plea in federal court in Washington, DC to one charge of operating illegally as a foreign agent.
The department said Yeo was “central” to a Chinese government scheme to obtain sensitive information from US citizens.
“In response to taskings from his Chinese intelligence contacts, Yeo worked to spot and assess Americans with access to valuable non-public information, including US military and government employees with high-level security clearances,” it said.
He then paid some of those individuals to write reports that were ostensibly for his clients in Asia, but sent instead to the Chinese government, the department added.
The guilty plea comes as the US cracks down on alleged Chinese spying, including pressing visa fraud charges against four Chinese scientists who investigators said hid their ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and ordering the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston on the accusation of intellectual property theft.
In addition to the allegations of espionage, the US-China relationship has deteriorated on an array of issues, including the novel coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s policies in the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
China has dismissed the charges over the Houston consulate’s closure as “malicious slander” and urged the US to “create the necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track”.
Alan Kohler Jr, assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said Yeo’s case was “yet another reminder that China is relentless in its pursuit of US technology and policy information in order to advance its own interests”.
In a “statement of facts” submitted to the court and signed by Yeo, he admitted he was fully aware he was working for Chinese intelligence, meeting agents dozens of times and being given special treatment when he travelled to China.
Yeo, who was arrested in November last year, was recruited by Chinese intelligence while working as an academic at the National University of Singapore. He had researched and wrote about China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to expand its global commercial networks.
According to his LinkedIn page, he worked as a political risk analyst focused on China and ASEAN countries, saying he was “bridging North America with Beijing, Tokyo and Southeast Asia”.
In the US, the court filing said, Yeo was directed by Chinese intelligence to open up a fake consultancy and offer jobs.
He received more than 400 resumes, 90 percent of which were from US military or government personnel with security clearances.
Yeo gave his Chinese handlers the resumes that he thought they would find interesting, according to the court documents.
He said he had recruited a number of people to work with him, targetting those who admitted to financial difficulties.
They included a civilian working on the air force’s F-35B stealth fighter-bomber project, a Pentagon army officer with Afghanistan experience, and a State Department official, all of whom were paid as much as $2,000 for writing reports for Yeo.
Yeo was “using career networking sites and a false consulting firm to lure Americans who might be of interest to the Chinese government”, said Assistant Attorney General John Demers in a statement.
“This is yet another example of the Chinese government’s exploitation of the openness of American society,” he said.