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Private Investigators Are Routinely Contacted by Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) to Do Their Dirty Work

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted several people for working for the Chinese government to spy, harass, threaten and stalk Chinese dissidents legally living in the United States.

This is called, “Transnational Repression.”

WHY IS THIS CASE PARTICULARLY INTERESTING?

There are several intriguing things about it, such as, one victim was at Tiananmen Square in 1989, escaped to the U.S., became a citizen, served in the U.S. military and is currently running for the U.S Congress.

But this post will focus on the apparent “go-to” of the Chinese MSS to retain U.S. private investigators (PIs) to do their dirty work in the United States.

In this case, the PI was contacted to take part in this “transnational repression” campaign by providing background information and to stalk and intimidate the victims.

A FEW DETAILS

The MSS initially reached out to the PI for the following information on one particular Chinese victim legally living in the United States:

  • Home address and phone number
  • Family members
  • Company information
  • What is the business?
  • How many members and partners?
  • Identity of members and partners
  • Names of victim’s assistant and housekeeper

The Investigator agreed to provide the open-source information requested at a cost of $1500. per report.

DID THE PI EVENTUALLY NOTIFY LAW ENFORCEMENT?

After the PI provided that open-source information to the Chinese, the Chinese agent then requested IRS tax returns for the victim running for Congress and asked if the PI had any contacts with the CIA or FBI.

It was at that point that the PI notified the FBI to report being approached.

Here is a quote from the complaint:

“However, the Investigator did not respond, concerned that the requests were from the PRC government. Thereafter, the Investigator contacted the FBI and provided all prior written communications with LIU [Chinese MSS agent] to the FBI.”

The MSS then urged the private investigator to either uncover derogatory information about the victim or create it if none existed, including to beat the victim.

One of the accused named in the complaint that the MSS also retained was a former Florida correctional officer.

Here are a few quotes from the complaint:

“MATTHEW ZIBURIS previously resided in Ocala, Florida and currently resides in Oyster Bay, Long Island. He has worked as a correctional officer for the State of Florida and as a bodyguard.

ZIBURIS has not notified the Attorney General that he is acting as an agent of the PRC government.”

ANOTHER RECENT CASE OF THE CHINESE MSS USING AN AMERICAN PI

In my November 2, 2020, post titled, “U.S Private Investigator – Former Law Enforcement Officer—Arrested for Conspiring with Chinese Foreign Agents in an Illegal Chinese “Fox Hunt” Operation”

Essentially, the private investigator was retained by the Chinese State to assist in coercing the target to return to China. Similarly, the bottom line here is that the Chinese agents who retained the PI and the PI himself were acting as foreign agents in the U.S. without being registered with the U.S. Attorney General.

Here is a sample of actions the private investigator allegedly took on behalf of the Chinese government:

  • Signed retainer agreement with Chinese agents and initially paid and deposited $5,000.
  • PI updated Chinese agents with surveillance results
  • PI was photographed in several meetings with Chinese agents in New Jersey
  • PI received a wire transfer of $5,945. from a PRC bank
  • PI provided international travel information for victim’s wife
  • PI provided date of birth, social security number and bank account information to Chinese agents for the victim’s wife
  • A Chinese agent notified PI of the arrival of the victim’s father, and the PI accepted the task to follow the father to his son’s (victim’s) address and maintain surveillance
  • On the date of the father’s arrival, the PI sent approximately 13 text messages to the Chinese agent, and the Chinese agent sent about 13 messages to the PI
  • A police report indicated that a vehicle registered to the PI was parked in a position to observe the victim’s wife’s relatives at their home at the same time the victim’s father was in that home
  • PI emailed himself a China-based link which indicated “Interpol Launches Global Dragnet for 100 Chinese Fugitives” while surveilling the victim

FBI ANNOUNCEMENT TO PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS

In the March complaint announcement, the DOJ specifically called on private investigators to notify the FBI when contacted.

Alan Kohler, FBI Assistant Director, Counterintelligence Division, stated the following:

“…I will also note the use of private investigators in many of these cases, I would urge all private investigators that have been asked to gather information on dissidents or have been approached by foreign governments to immediately report such requests to the FBI.

Video of DOJ March 16, 2022 Press Conference.

*Although not specified in the criminal complaint or the DOJ press conference, it appears that the private investigator’s notification to law enforcement was the catalyst for the investigation.

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER

In all the cases that I am aware of in which an American private investigator has gotten in hot water with the law, the Chinese agents were dealing directly with the PI.

Therefore, it would be a good idea for PIs to apply the fundamentals of ‘Know Your Customer’ before accepting an assignment.

SUGGESTIONS FOR PIs

For entities in China that have a legitimate need for private investigation service in the U.S., here are a few suggestions:

  • Do not accept work directly from Chinese clients
  • Only consider accepting work from American attorneys representing the Chinese client
  • Conduct some due diligence on the American attorney representing the Chinese client. (It is not difficult to identify reputable attorneys that do legitimate legal work for Chinese entities, or American entities doing business in China.)

If contacted directly by a Chinese public/private institution, the first question a PI should ask is whether an attorney in the U.S. represents the client.

FINAL THOUGHT

This is darn serious business. American private investigators need to be darn careful when approached by Chinese representatives. Do not allow the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to use you to do their dirty work.

DisclaimerIPProbe.Global is a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, regarding the content provided in IPProbe.Global. We disclaim all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such persons and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is for general information only and not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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Ron Alvarez is an IP investigations and protection consultant and writer in New York City. He is a former NYPD lieutenant where he investigated robbery, narcotics, internal affairs, and fine art theft cases. Ron has since coordinated the private investigation of international fraud and money laundering cases, as well as IP-related investigations and research involving the four pillars of IP: copyright, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. Ron is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and earned a B.A. in Government and Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. He has written a number of articles for various investigative publications, as well as published "The World of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and Investigations" in November 2021.

2 comments on “Private Investigators Are Routinely Contacted by Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) to Do Their Dirty Work

  1. THOMAS MANLEY

    Thank You Ronald
    This is a fascinating case reported in the blog.
    Most of or citizens are oblivious regarding Transnational Repression
    Certainly This is the result of an ever more complex society we live in.
    What an amazing world we live in
    Godspeed
    Tom

  2. KC Morris

    Thank you for the article. This is very important information that all PIs need to know.

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