DETROIT (Tribune News Service) — FBI agents Tuesday arrested a federal employee who lied about working for the Taiwan Navy and using the COVID pandemic as cover to move to Taiwan, according to a criminal case unsealed in federal court.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employee Yifei Chu, 57, of Ypsilanti, was charged with making false statements about his contacts with the Taiwan Navy and falsifying documents while applying for a security clearance. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
The 32-page criminal complaint details a rare local investigation involving members of the FBI‘s Counterintelligence Division, which investigates, exposes and tries to prevent national security threats from foreign intelligence services and other intelligence activities. The investigation uncovered multiple lies revealed after federal investigators searched Chu’s emails and other electronic devices and discovered prolonged contact with members of the Taiwanese Navy.
Chu, who also is known as Philip Chu, is expected to make an initial appearance later Tuesday in federal court in Detroit.
The investigation emerged in December 2020 after Chu, a naturalized U.S. citizen, applied for a three-year assignment working for the U.S. Navy in the Office of Naval Research Global at the U.S. embassy in Singapore.
The position requires a secret sercurity clearance. During the application process, Chu made false statements, including during an interview with background investigators and in an affidavit, according to an FBI special agent’s affidavit filed in federal court.
Those false statements included Chu failing to dislcose extensive contacts with Taiwan naval officials and a Taiwan company, including that he had been hired as a consultant on a classified naval project, according to the affidavit.
Chu also concealed that he lived in Taiwan for about 11 months from 2020-21 without his supervisors’ knowledge. Chu was born in Taiwan and signed paperwork indicating he had renounced his citizenship in 2008, according to the FBI.
“They believed Chu worked remotely from his residence in Michigan during the 11-month period he was in Taiwan,” The FBI special agent wrote.
A review of Chu’s emails revealed he owned a condominium in Taiwan as recently as 2010.
“Some of the associated emails and attachments were documents that appear to be sale negotiations, contracts for sale, associated parking spaces, and property deeds,” the FBI agent wrote.
Investigators say Chu also met repeatedly with members of the Taiwanese Navy on a military base in Taiwan while working as a consultant.
Chu also lied about obtaining a new Taiwanese passport and traveling to the country in 2020 and as recently as August.
“Chu also sought to conceal the fact that he is still a citizen of Taiwan,” prosecutors said Tuesday.
Chu is at least the second person arrested in Metro Detroit in recent years by members of the FBI Counterintelligence Division.
Amin Hasanzadeh, an Ann Arbor engineer and a post-doc researcher at the University of Michigan, was arrested in November 2019 and accused of sending tech secrets to Iran.
A subsequent court filing revealed FBI agents “surreptitiously entered” Hasanzadeh’s apartment in December 2017 and approximately five years passed before Hasanzadeh became aware of the search. The search was fruitful as investigators found thousands of confidential files belonging to Hasanzadeh’s employer.
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