US charges two in Beijing-directed targeting of Falun Gong

FILE PHOTO: Illustration picture of U.S. and Chinese flags

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Los Angeles residents have been charged with acting in a Beijing-directed scheme targeting U.S.-based practitioners of the Falun Gong group that is outlawed in China, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.

John 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 U.S. entity run by Falun Gong practitioners, the department said in a statement.

The department described the scheme as part of a broader campaign by China's government to target its U.S.-based critics. The charges were announced a month after federal agents arrested two New York residents on suspicion of operating a Chinese "secret police station" in Manhattan's Chinatown district.

A complaint against Chen and Lin was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, the department said. Reuters was not immediately able to reach them or their lawyers for comment. China's embassy in Washington did not immediately provide comment.

Chen and Lin in 2023 attempted to bribe an undercover federal agent acting as a U.S. tax official to advance a complaint that would strip the Falun Gong entity's federal tax exemption, the department said.

The two paid $5,000 in cash bribes and promised to pay substantially more to advance the complaint with the Internal Revenue Service's Whistleblower Program, it said.

The bribes were intended to carry out China's aim of "toppling ... the Falun Gong," the department quoted Chen as saying on an intercepted call. Stripping the entity's exempt status would increase its federal tax obligation.

Falun Gong, based broadly around meditation, was banned by China in 1999 after 10,000 members appeared at the central leadership compound in Beijing in silent protest. The group has called for people to renounce the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

China's government has described the group as a cult organization that threatens national stability.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Grant McCool)