US & Canada

Chinese national arrested for 'spying on US engineers'

The US Department of Justice seal is seen on a lectern. Image copyright Getty Images

A Chinese man has been arrested for allegedly spying on US engineers and scientists on behalf of Beijing, US prosecutors say.

Ji Chaoqun, 27, was arrested in Chicago and charged with acting as an illegal foreign agent in the US, according to the US attorney's office.

Mr Ji came to the US in 2013 to study electrical engineering and enlisted in the US Army Reserves in 2016.

He allegedly sought to provide details on eight people for recruitment.

Mr Ji is accused of working for an unnamed high-ranking intelligence officer, according to a criminal complaint filed in a Chicago court.

Prosecutors say he targeted other Chinese nationals who were working as engineers and scientists, some of whom were US defence contractors, for potential recruitment.

He arrived from Beijing in August 2013 on a student visa and studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He later earned a Master's Degree in electrical engineering in 2015.

Mr Ji served in the US Army Reserves in 2016 and "specifically denied having contact with a foreign government within the past seven years" when he applied through a specialty programme for immigrants known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (Mavni).

He later failed to disclose his relationship with the intelligence officer in question during an interview with a US Army officer, prosecutors say.

What is the Mavni programme?

Mr Ji joined the US Army Reserves through the Mavni programme, which expedites citizenship for certain immigrants with critical skills in languages and medicine who are recruited into military service.

Nearly 11,000 immigrants have joined the US armed forces through the Mavni programme since it began in 2008.

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Media captionServing for Citizenship

The programme was officially suspended in 2016 over security concerns, and the Pentagon imposed a stricter vetting process on hundreds of recruits who had already joined Mavni.

A group of those recruits who claimed to have been abruptly discharged from service sued the US Army in federal court earlier this year.

The US Army has since suspended the involuntary discharges of Mavni recruits and said it planned to "conduct a review of the administrative separation process", according to the New York Times.

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