Two men suspected of being Chinese intelligence operatives have been charged with attempting to obstruct a US criminal investigation and prosecution of Chinese technology giant Huawei.

Chinese nationals Guochun He and Zheng Wang are accused of bribing a U.S. official who they believed was recruited as a spy but was actually a double agent working for the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The men are accused of trying to force the official to release confidential information about the department’s investigation, including witnesses, court evidence and possible new charges.

The Ministry of Justice said one of the defendants paid about $61,000 (£54,000) for the information.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate any attempt by any foreign state to undermine the rule of law on which our democracy is based,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

The department added that warrants have been issued for the couple’s arrest, but it is unclear if they will ever be taken into custody.

Washington has long accused Beijing of meddling in US political affairs and stealing secrets and intellectual property.

In the past week, 11 other Chinese nationals have been arrested or charged with offenses including pursuing individuals in the US to return to China, as part of what Beijing has called “Operation Foxhunt”.

Huawei is not named, but the links are obvious

Prosecutors say that at some point last year, an unnamed person provided the defendants with a document that appeared to be classified and contained information about an alleged plan to indict and arrest Huawei executives in the United States.

However, the document was prepared by the government for prosecutors and was released on Monday, and the information in it was inaccurate.

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Although the company is not named in the indictment, the references clearly indicate that it is Huawei, which was indicted in 2019 on bank fraud charges and again the following year on new counts of racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

Huawei previously called the federal investigation “political harassment, plain and simple.”

In 2020, the company said in a statement: “An attack on Huawei will not help the US stay ahead of its competitors.”