Singapore man sentenced to prison for spying for China in U.S.
The 14-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan during a virtual hearing in Washington was two months shorter than the punishment recommended by prosecutors
WASHINGTON — A man from Singapore was sentenced to 14 months in prison Oct. 9 for spying by passing to the Chinese government valuable, but unclassified military and political information that he had duped Americans into giving him.
Jun Wei Yeo admitted participating in an elaborate ruse under the direction of Chinese intelligence operatives that recruited unsuspecting U.S. government employees into writing reports that he said would be sent to clients in Asia. The reports were instead transmitted to the Chinese government as part of what the Trump administration has alleged is a broader effort by China to steal American secrets, including cutting-edge research, for Beijing’s economic gain.
Prosecutors allege that Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, was motivated not only by greed but also be a shared desire with China’s Communist government to weaken the global standing of the United States. Over the course of multiple years, according to the Justice Department, he passed along reports on a military aircraft program, U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and on a Cabinet member, who was not identified in court papers.
“It was a not one-off lapse in judgment that we’re talking about here,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson. The prosecutor said Yeo “worked for a hostile power on our soil to collect nonpublic information of interest to that power.”
The Justice Department believes Yeo was arrested before he was able to obtain any classified information, though prosecutors say he was preparing to receive some before he was taken into custody.
The 14-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan during a virtual hearing in Washington was two months shorter than the punishment recommended by prosecutors, and took into account Yeo’s co-operation as well as the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the U.S. prison system.
Yeo, who was arrested in November 2019 after an interview with the FBI, will receive credit for the jail time he has already served, meaning he should be released in a matter of weeks. He will be deported after the completion of his sentence.
Yeo said he was eager to return home to his family in Singapore. “I take full responsibility for what I have done,” Yeo said.
“I am sympathetic to China’s position,” he told the judge, “but it was not my intention to harm anyone.”
Yeo was a doctoral candidate at a Singapore university when prosecutors say he was recruited by intelligence operatives after a 2015 trip to Beijing to give a presentation.
Working under the operatives’ direction over the next several years, the Justice Department alleges, he concocted a fake consulting company that shared its name with a prominent U.S. consulting company and used a professional networking site to target Americans whose jobs he thought would given them access to information that China could use to its advantage.
In addition, prosecutors say, he created fake job postings and collected hundreds of resumes from would-be applicants, most of whom were military and government personnel. He passed along the promising resumes to a Chinese handler.
One of his recruits, a civilian who worked for the Air Force, provided information about the implications of the Japanese purchasing military aircraft from the U.S. that Yeo then turned into a report for his Chinese intelligence contacts. Another recruit, a State Department employee who prosecutors say confided to feeling dissatisfied at work, wrote at Yeo’s direction a report on a Cabinet member, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said they would have recommended a harsher sentence for Yeo, who pleaded guilty to acting as an agent of a foreign government, but for his co-operation. He was approached by the FBI at an airport last November, and though he initially declined an interview request and headed toward boarding his flight, he changed his mind and returned to the agents to agree to be questioned.
“Mr. Yeo, while he was still free to leave the United States agreed to co-operate with the United State and was within hours, was completely truthful with the government about what was going on,” he said.