New York - The Department announced the arrest of Zhongsan Liu, who was charged by complaint for his involvement in a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain U.S. visas for Chinese government employees. Liu was arrested last week in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and presented in Manhattan federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.
“We welcome foreign students and researchers, including from China, but we do not welcome visa fraud – especially on behalf of a government,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of National Security. “We will continue to confront Chinese government attempts to subvert American law to advance its own interests in diverting U.S. research and know-how to China.”
“As alleged Zhongsan Liu conspired to obtain research scholar visas fraudulently for people whose actual purpose was not research but recruitment,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “Rather than helping to bring students to the U.S., Liu allegedly conspired to defraud this country’s visa system to advance his efforts to attract U.S. experts to China. Thanks to the FBI, this alleged abuse of the visa system has been halted.”
"Zhongsan Liu broke the law by seeking visas for employees of the government of The People's Republic of China to enter the United States under false pretenses. Individuals obtained visas under the guise of research scholars, but in reality their assignment was to recruit top U.S. talent to benefit the government of China," said Assistant Director John Brown of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. "The FBI recognizes the immense benefit of academic freedom in our open society, and we will investigate those who break our laws in an effort to take advantage of that freedom.”
“The allegation that an employee of a foreign government has worked to mask the true purpose of an individual’s presence in the United States isn’t news to the FBI,” said FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. “This alleged behavior should be another alarm bell that foreign governments are constantly working to exploit research work being conducted throughout the United States. Not everyone shares the honest goal of conducting open research to benefit society as a whole. This case is another example of the pervasive and organized effort, in this instance an allegedly flat-out illegal one, to fulfill a top priority of collecting information to advantage a foreign adversary. Putting a halt to Mr. Liu’s alleged actions are an important and significant step to highlighting these activities. The FBI New York, along with our intelligence community partners, will continue to disrupt the behavior when it is detected.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court:
From approximately 2017, up to and including September 2019, Liu participated in a conspiracy to fraudulently procure U.S. visas for employees of the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC Government). Liu operates the New York office of the China Association for International Exchange of Personnel (CAIEP-NY). CAIEP-NY is a PRC Government agency that, among other things, recruits U.S. scientists, academics, engineers and other experts to work in China.
Liu worked with others, including other PRC Government employees in the United States, to fraudulently procure J-1 Research Scholar visas for a CAIEP-NY employee (CC-1) and a prospective CAIEP-NY employee (the CAIEP-NY Hire). The J-1 Research Scholar visa program permits foreign nationals to come to the United States for the primary purpose of conducting research at a corporate research facility, museum, library, university or other research institution.
In or about April 2018, CC-1 applied for and received a J-1 visa to conduct research at a particular U.S. university (University-1) located outside of New York. Although CC-1 represented to the U.S. Government that she was entering the United States for the primary purpose of conducting research at University-1, CC-1’s actual purpose in the United States consisted of performing full-time talent-recruitment work at CAIEP-NY. Liu helped CC-1 take measures to enhance her false appearance as a Research Scholar at University-1 by, among other things, directing CC-1 to report to University-1 upon her arrival in the United States; ensuring that CC-1 obtained a driver’s license in the state where University-1 is located; and instructing CC-1 to periodically visit University-1 while working full-time at CAIEP-NY.
In addition, Liu attempted to enable the CAIEP-NY Hire to obtain a J-1 Research Scholar visa under false pretenses. In particular, Liu reached out to contacts at multiple U.S. universities in order to arrange for a university to invite the CAIEP-NY Hire to come to the United States as a J-1 Research Scholar. In truth and in fact, however, Liu intended that the CAIEP-NY Hire’s primary purpose in the United States would consist of engaging full-time in the talent-recruitment work of CAIEP-NY.
Liu, 57, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Assistant Attorney General Demers and U.S. Attorney Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI, and thanked the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division for their assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Gillian Grossman is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.