Former Chicago graduate student found guilty of spying for China

A Chinese national living in Chicago was convicted of spying for the Chinese government on Monday.

Ji Chaoqun, 31, a former graduate student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, one count of acting as an agent of China and one count of making a material false statement to the U.S. Army. He was acquitted of two other wire fraud counts.

Evidence presented at the two-week trial showed that Ji had operated under the orders of top intelligence officers in the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a provincial division of China’s Ministry of State Security.

Ji was tasked by a director named Xu Yanjun to provide an intelligence officer with biographical information on possible recruits — such as Chinese scientists and engineers, including those with ties to U.S. defense contractors — to the Jiangsu division. Xu was convicted of conspiracy and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets in Ohio last year.

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Ji lied about not being in contact with a foreign government in the past seven years when he applied to become a reservist in 2016, according to the Justice Department. In a subsequent interview with an Army officer, he once again failed to make such a disclosure.

Prosecutors said Ji had sworn to “devote the rest of my life” to Chinese state security. He was able to gather information on eight U.S. citizens who were all born in China or Taiwan.

Damon Cheronis, Ji’s lead attorney, reportedly painted his client as an oblivious pawn in a larger game of global espionage. He also stressed that Ji had never stolen any government secrets.

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“It was a complicated case and luckily we live in a country where a jury gets to decide these issues,” Cheronis told the Chicago Tribune. “While we are obviously disappointed with the remaining counts, we respect the jury process and the hard work they put into deciding this case.”

Ji has remained in custody since his arrest in 2018. He faces up to 10 years in prison for acting as an unregistered Chinese agent and up to five years each for his conspiracy and false statement convictions.

A sentencing date has not been set.

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Featured Image via Ji Chaoqun / Facebook

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