Hongkonger John Shing-wan Leung ‘posed as philanthropist’ to spy on China for US

A Hong Kong permanent resident and US citizen who was jailed for life in China in May for espionage posed as a philanthropist to snoop for information, the Ministry of State Security said on Monday.
John Shing-wan Leung, 78, was sentenced in May, two years after his arrest in Suzhou, in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The Suzhou court also issued a fine of 500,000 yuan (US$72,000) but further details were not released until now.

The ministry said Leung, also known as Liang Chengyun, was caught after he used many false identity documents to travel to the mainland via Hong Kong in 2020, when international flights were halted by Covid-19.

According to the case against Leung, he was sent to China by an unnamed US spy agency that was in a hurry to obtain information. During his visits to the mainland, Leung frequently took part in social activities, the ministry said.

Hong Kong-born Leung opened a restaurant in the US in 1983 and was approached three years later by American espionage personnel who asked for his cooperation. He signed an official contract in 1989 and was paid US$1,000 a month as an informant, it said.

The US government helped to create a new identity for Leung, which included faking his resume to include attendance at a university in England, working as an official for the United Nations, and taking part in the Vietnam war, the ministry said.

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According to the ministry, the US provided funding to help Leung increase his influence in the Chinese-American community, where he became president of many organisations through large donations.

Leung then went to China, disguising himself as a philanthropist and donating to charity events, the ministry said.

The case against Leung found that he carried out a series of espionage activities against China in his guise as a philanthropist. These included trying to get close to Chinese diplomats stationed in the US through meals, visits and events, and spying on Chinese-Americans.

Using a special phone and email to report to the unnamed US spy agency, Leung also let his handlers know when new diplomats were assigned to American postings, the ministry said.

According to the statement, Leung took new diplomats to a monitored restaurant or hotel to fish for secret information. Sometimes he set up erotic traps in a bid to threaten the Chinese officials to defect, it said.

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The ministry also said Leung acted as bait for the US agency, meeting targeted personnel and enticing them to trade sensitive information with the intention of piecing together enough evidence to create a “Chinese spy” case.

China, which has been stepping up its efforts to target spies – especially from the United States and its allies – updated its anti-espionage legislation this year to expand the definition of spying.

The amendment bans the transfer of any information related to national security, including cyberattacks. Under the law, espionage activities deemed a threat to national security could lead to a jail term ranging from 10 years to life.


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