WASHINGTON: A Singaporean who recruited US officials to provide classified political and defence information to China was sentenced to 14 months in prison by a US court on Friday (Oct 9).
Jun Wei Yeo, also called Dickson Yeo, was given a relatively light sentence and credited for 11 months already spent in prison because of his cooperation with US authorities and also the threat of contracting COVID-19 in jail, said Washington federal judge Tanya Chutkan.
The sentence means he could be released and expelled from the United States by January.
The 39-year-old was arrested at an airport in November 2019 and pleaded guilty in July to one count of operating illegally as a foreign agent, which can bring up to 10 years in prison.
In a sentencing hearing conducted by teleconference, Yeo appeared to break down as he expressed regrets, and said he had no intention to harm anyone.
He said he had been treated well by US justice authorities.
"All I'd like to do is to go home to my family," he said.
But then he added that he remains supportive of Beijing.
"I am still sympathetic to the Chinese cause," he told the court.
"Politically, I do have sympathy. I admit that freely," he said.
READ: How a Singaporean man went from NUS PhD student to working for Chinese intelligence in the US
Chutkan, whose sentence was two months less than the 16 months recommended by federal prosecutors, drew a comparison with other countries, telling Yeo: "I'm going to punish you for what you did, not what you think."
"Mr. Yeo worked under the direction of the intelligence service of the People's Republic of China," she said.
"The crime that Mr Yeo committed was not a momentary lapse of judgment."
"I can tell you are a highly educated man and I have no doubt you understood you knew what you were doing," she told Yeo.
"Your operation was designed to weaken the United States for the benefit of China."
At the same time, Chutkan said she had to accept prosecutors' assertions that Yeo cooperated well with investigators in the case.
In addition, she noted Yeo had survived 11 months in US prisons, where there are extensive coronavirus outbreaks, without getting infected.
"Yeo is fortunate. So far he has not gotten Covid," she said.
"It would be horrible if he gets it because he has to spend a few more months in jail."
READ: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy cancels Dickson Yeo's PhD candidature
He 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.
WHAT HE DID
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.
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.
READ: Dickson Yeo: China 'not aware' of case, says US should stop using 'espionage issue' to smear it
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.
READ: Dickson Yeo case: Investigations have not revealed any direct threat to Singapore's security, says MHA
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.