China's national security authorities on Monday released details about the case of John Shing-Wan Leung, who holds permanent residency in China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and a U.S. passport, and was sentenced to life in prison on espionage charges, including when Leung became an informant of the U.S. intelligence agency, conducting spy activities for the U.S. under the disguise of charity.
Leung was handed down the life sentence on May 15, marking an end of Leung's “spy career” for the U.S. which spanned more than 30 years, China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) said in a release on its official WeChat account on Monday.
Leung, who was born on May 1, 1945 in Hong Kong, is deprived of his political rights for life and will also have 500,000 yuan ($71,800) of personal assets confiscated, according to the court verdict.
The Ministry of State Security’s statement said that Leung went to the U.S. to run a restaurant in 1983. In 1986, agents from American intelligence agencies repeatedly contacted Leung, identified themselves explicitly and requested Leung’s cooperation. In 1989, American intelligence agencies officially signed a "cooperation agreement" with Leung, recruiting him as an informant. They agreed on a secret means of communication and promised to pay him $1,000 per month, with additional bonuses based on his performance. That same year, Leung obtained American citizenship.
In order to shape Leung's social image, the U.S. side went to great lengths to create a "persona" for him ̶ they fabricated his background, claiming that he had studied at a university in the United Kingdom, worked as a United Nations official, and served in the Vietnam War. They also required him to donate money to American state legislators in order to burnish his image.
Moreover, to enhance Leung's influence among overseas Chinese communities, the U.S. side also provided funding and instructed him to assume positions such as president, honorary president, and chairman of various Chinese community organizations through donations and other means. To increase Leung's visibility in China, U.S. spy agency instructed him to carry out charitable donations and tried to create a false image of him as a "patriotic philanthropist."
Under this pretense, Leung conducted extensive espionage activities against China. For example, by organizing overseas Chinese community activities, Leung approached Chinese diplomatic institutions and personnel in the U.S., monitored Chinese nationals and overseas Chinese in the U.S., and reported to American intelligence agencies through designated phones and emails, according to the MSS release.
Moreover, whenever Leung learned about Chinese personnel traveling to the U.S. for official businesses, he would report to American spy agencies and followed instructions to take Chinese officials to restaurants or hotels pre-installed with surveillance devices to obtain intelligence. He even set up sexual entrapments in an attempt to coerce and incite defection of Chinese personnel.
Leung was also found cooperating with the U.S.’s efforts to entangle law enforcement. The American side instructed Leung to meet with targeted individuals at designated locations, enticing them to engage in sensitive transactions and gathering "evidence" to fabricate the so-called Chinese spy cases.
Under the command of several American spies, Leung collected a large amount of intelligence related to China which he fed to American spy agencies. He was even awarded a meritorious medal by a U.S. intelligence agency.
In 2020, when international flights were suspended due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. intelligence agencies, eager to obtain Chinese intelligence, instructed the 75-year-old Leung to enter the Chinese mainland. At the end of 2020, Leung used multiple identity documents to transit through the HKSAR and arrived in the Chinese mainland. He then frequently participated in various social activities, extensively contacting individuals from all walks of life in China, while seeking to gather intelligence.
State security authorities in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu Province took compulsory measures against Leung in April 2021 on suspicion of him conducting espionage.
The Chinese national security authority noted in the release on Monday that according to China’s Criminal Law, individuals who organize or participate in espionage activities and endanger national security would be sentenced to between10 years to life in prison. And according to China’s Counter-Espionage Law, individuals who are coerced to participate in spy activities overseas may not held accountable if they report themselves to Chinese security authorities.