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US government seeks 16 months' jail for Singaporean who worked for Chinese intelligence

US government seeks 16 months' jail for Singaporean who worked for Chinese intelligence

Yeo Jun Wei Dickson has pleaded guilty in the US to using a fake consultancy business to obtain information for Chinese intelligence. (Photo: Facebook/Dickson Yeo)

SINGAPORE: The United States government wants a Singaporean man who worked for Chinese intelligence for four years while he was in the US to be jailed for 16 months.

Dickson Yeo Jun Wei, 39, pleaded guilty in July to using his political consultancy in the US as a front to collect information for Chinese intelligence services.

The former National University of Singapore (NUS) PhD student admitted to operating illegally as a foreign agent in the US.

The US government called for him to be jailed for 16 months ahead of his sentencing hearing in Washington, DC on Friday (Oct 9) morning (Friday night Singapore time). 

This is less than the “appropriate sentence” of 30 months, and takes into account Yeo's cooperation with authorities, said the prosecution on behalf of the US government.

READ: How a Singaporean man went from NUS PhD student to working for Chinese intelligence in the US

On Nov 7 last year, Yeo was approached by FBI agents at John F Kennedy (JFK) airport to do a voluntary interview.

He initially declined and went to board his flight, but later changed his mind, court documents seen by CNA show. He returned to the agents and agreed to be interviewed.

During the voluntary, non-custodial interview, Yeo was “forthcoming about his activities”, admitting that he worked for Chinese intelligence services, the court documents said.

“After the interview, Yeo agreed to continue meeting with the FBI. The next day, Yeo was arrested and taken into custody,” the sentencing memorandum said.

“After his arrest, Yeo continued to meet with US government officials and answer questions. He ultimately entered a plea of guilty and provided substantial assistance to law enforcement.”

READ: Dickson Yeo: China 'not aware' of case, says US should stop using 'espionage issue' to smear it


His defence lawyer, Ms Michelle Peterson, said Yeo has been in custody since early November, and asked for Yeo to be sentenced to a period of time-served. This sentence would take into consideration the time Yeo has already spent in custody.

If granted, Yeo will be released from custody and be immediately subject to "removal" from the US. It is not clear if he will return to Singapore.

Ms Peterson said Yeo had “immediately accepted responsibility” by pleading guilty and had fully cooperated with the US government’s investigation.

“After being detained, he held nothing back when describing his own misconduct and repeatedly expressed that he never intended to cause any harm to the interests of the United States, any United States citizens, or his own country, Singapore,” said the defence lawyer.

“He did not betray Singapore, and he does not bear any malice towards the United States or any US citizens. 

"He was deeply attracted to China and its ability to uplift millions from poverty with industrial policy, which led him to be easily influenced.”

She added: “(He) suffers from elevated blood pressure and anxiety, depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) stemming from his service in the military in Singapore. He was being medicated for these conditions at the time of his arrest in this case and currently."

Ms Peterson said that Yeo was raised in Singapore in a “family of modest means”, who put a large emphasis on the importance of education.

As a result, Yeo pursued multiple degrees in Singapore and Japan. When he was recruited by Chinese intelligence services, he was cash-strapped and “floundering in his academic pursuits”, the lawyer said.

During his PhD years, Yeo was “lonely, broken and suffering from disappointment”, she said.

NUS has since cancelled his candidature.

READ: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy cancels Dickson Yeo's PhD candidature

Ms Peterson argued that his professional reputation has been ruined and that he wants “nothing more than to return to a quiet life with his parents”.

While he was free to leave when FBI agents at the airport approached him, he agreed instead to be interviewed by the agents, she said.

She added that the current COVID-19 situation would also mean he will spend his time in lockdown conditions “similar to solitary confinement”.

The prosecution for the US government said a prison sentence would provide a just punishment that deters others who engage in similar campaigns in the future.


Yeo admitted to working between 2015 and 2019 for Chinese intelligence to spot and assess Americans with access to valuable non-public information, including US military and government employees with high-level security clearances.

Yeo paid some of those individuals to write reports that he said were for clients in Asia, but sent them instead to the Chinese government.

In a statement of facts submitted to the court and signed by Yeo, he admitted he was fully aware he was working for Chinese intelligence, had met agents in China dozens of times and was given special treatment when he travelled to China.

READ: Dickson Yeo case: Investigations have not revealed any direct threat to Singapore's security, says MHA

Yeo was recruited by Chinese intelligence while at the NUS in 2015. He had researched and wrote about China's Belt and Road initiative to expand its global commercial networks.

According to his LinkedIn page, he worked as a political risk analyst focused on China and ASEAN countries, saying he was "bridging North America with Beijing, Tokyo and Southeast Asia".

Yeo was also directed by Chinese intelligence to open up a fake consultancy in the US and post job listings for the company on an online job-search website.

He received more than 400 resumes, 90 per cent of which were from US military or government personnel with security clearances.

Yeo gave his Chinese handlers the resumes that he thought they would find interesting, according to the court documents.

He said he had recruited a number of people to work with him, targeting those who admitted to financial difficulties.

They included a civilian working on the Air Force's F-35B stealth fighter-bomber project, a Pentagon army officer with Afghanistan experience, and a State Department official, all of whom were paid as much as US$2,000 to write reports for Yeo.

Source: CNA/mi


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