- The FBI believes that a researcher who hid her connections to the Chinese military is hiding out at her country’s San Francisco consulate.
- According to court filings, Tang Juan was interviewed by the FBI on June 20 and charged with visa fraud on June 26. She is still believed to be at the consulate.
- She appears to be “part of a program” involving several others with military connections sent to the US “under false pretenses,” the court filings said.
- One expert told Axios that sheltering a person charged with federal crimes at a consulate would be an “extraordinary” move.
- The claims come at a time of heightened US-China tensions. China said the US on Tuesday abruptly gave it 72 hours to shut down its Houston consulate.
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The FBI believes that China’s San Francisco consulate is harbouring a fugitive researcher who committed visa fraud and hid her affiliations to the Chinese military.
The FBI allegations were detailed in court papers filed on Monday. Axios first reported on the case on Wednesday.
According to the court filings, Tang Juan, who worked as a researcher at the University of California, had stated in her visa application that she had never served in the military.
However, photographs emerged of her in the civilian cadre uniform of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and that she had been a researcher at the Air Force Military Medical University (FMMU). “Further evidence of Tang’s PLA affiliation” was then found in a digital search, the document said.
She was interviewed by the FBI on June 20, and the agency believes she headed to China’s San Francisco consulate shortly after, according to the filings. She was charged with visa fraud on June 26.
According to the filing, she is one of several people who appeared “to be part of a program conducted by the PLA … to send military scientists to the United States on false pretenses.”
Business Insider has contacted the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
The sheltering of a person charged with a federal crime is an “extraordinary” step, a lawyer who has worked on intellectual-property theft cases related to China told Axios.
“Sheltering a defendant in a criminal case by using the diplomatic immunity of a consular building, if true, is really extraordinary,” Minyao Wang told the outlet.
The FBI report comes as US-China tensions hit a new peak.
On Tuesday, the US abruptly ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close down immediately, under allegations that it is a site of spy activity. Papers were seen burning in the courtyard on Tuesday night.
In reaction to the order, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a Wednesday press conference that China “strongly condemns” the move and considers it illegal.
He said, without offering evidence, that the US “has been shifting the blame to China with stigmatization and unwarranted attacks against China’s social system, harassing Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in the US,” among other allegations.
The State Department told Business Insider in a statement: “The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behaviour.”