We visited a “Chinese secret police station” in London

LONDON — The nondescript estate agent’s office on a seedy stretch of the high road in north London is, at first glance, an unlikely center of international intrigue.

But Hunter Realty, in Hendon, north-west London, is coming under intense scrutiny following reports that it shares premises with one of Chinese police’s network of 54 illegal “gas stations” overseas reportedly operated in 33 countries across five continents. Most are in Europe, with nine in Spain, four in Italy and three in the UK.

Photo: Tim Hume

The network was exposed in a report entitled Chinese transnational police have gone wildpublished earlier this month by the Spanish NGO Safeguard Defenders.

He revealed that the public security bureaus of the Chinese cities of Fuzhou and Qingtian had set up dozens of so-called “110 Overseas” offices, in reference to the Chinese emergency number. Activists say the illegal police stations represent a brazen expansion of China’s security apparatus, allowing it to surveil and intimidate Chinese nationals even in foreign countries where it has no jurisdiction.

“This is creating immense fear within the overseas Chinese community,” Jing-Jie Chen, Paris-based researcher for Safeguard Defenders, told VICE World News.

“You are finally escaping an authoritarian regime but you are still not free.”

Chen said the undeclared police “gas stations” were a gross violation of the sovereignty of the countries where they operated and represented a dangerous incursion by China’s police state into free and democratic societies.

Although the governments of the Netherlands and Ireland have declared undeclared police stations illegal, Chinese authorities have openly promoted police stations to Chinese nationals, while insisting that they didn’t do anything wrong.

They portrayed the police stations as a means of combating transnational crime – particularly telecommunications fraud – committed by overseas Chinese, as well as acting as service points for Chinese nationals to overseas to perform mundane administrative tasks, such as renewing their driver’s licence.

But Safeguard Defenders says they are also used to conduct “persuasion operations” to pressure Chinese nationals wanted by the state, both political dissidents and criminal suspects, to return home for be punished – often involving threats against family members still in China.

Tuesday, Dutch media revealed that Wang Jingyu, a dissident refugee in the Netherlands, received threats and abuse from the Rotterdam police station, including a phone call telling him “to return to China to resolve [his] problems” and to “think [his] Parents.” In response to the revelations, the Dutch government said secret police stations were illegal, and it was launching an investigation and taking appropriate action.

Safeguard Defenders has also identified two cases where suspects were “persuaded” to return home from Europe to face charges with the involvement of police stations: in Madrid, Spain, in January 2020, and in Belgrade, Serbia, in October 2018. The Chinese government has trumpeted the success of its “persuasion operations”, with the Ministry of Public Security claiming in August that it had succeeded in persuading 230,000 overseas fraud suspects to return home since April 2021.

The network’s revelations drew a swift response from governments. In Ireland, the government ordered the closure of a police station in central Dublin – which even featured a sign announcing its presence as “Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station”. In the UK, the government has called the “very concerning” claims, with MPs planning a session in Parliament to gather evidence on the matter, while Canadian police have also spear investigation.

Hendon’s estate agency was one of three addresses in the UK – one an office in the London suburb of Croydon, the other a Cantonese restaurant in Glasgow – on a list of police stations in the published by Fuzhou officials, which was reproduced in the Safeguard Defenders Report.

Hunter Realty shares premises with law firm New World Law Associates, whose telephone number and address matches those provided for Hendon Police Station, and whose existence is advertised on a plaque on the wall outside real estate agents. The director of the law firm is Richard Huang, whose name is listed on the website of Companies House – the UK Companies Registry – as Shao Zhong Huang; Huang is also listed on LinkedIn as a director of Hunter Realty, although Companies House records show he resigned as director in May.

When VICE World News called the phone number for the reported Chinese police station in Hendon, which is the same number listed on the New World Law Associates website, a man answered, immediately hanging up when told that he was talking to a reporter. . The Chinese Embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier this month, the Spanish newspaper El Correo cited an unnamed Chinese diplomat acknowledged the “persuasion operations”, saying that bilateral extradition treaties with European countries were “very cumbersome and Europe is reluctant to extradite to China”. I don’t see what’s wrong with pressuring criminals to be brought to justice.

When VICE World News visited Hunter Realty to investigate further, the only staff member present was unsurprised by the media interest. The man, who only gave his name as Ali, said Richard Huang was his boss and often had Chinese visitors in his back office at the property.

He knew nothing of any secret Chinese police station operating at the site, but said that since the report was published, the business had been visited by a series of journalists and had also been targeted by activists protesting the abuses. of the Chinese government.

“We had people outside protesting against China and its treatment of Muslims,” he said. “As a Muslim myself, it’s difficult for me.”

Chen of Safeguard Defenders said police stations were often linked to overseas Chinese associations in the countries where they were based, which usually had close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

The issue is just the latest controversy over China’s conduct in Europe after a A Hong Kong protester was dragged into the Chinese consulate in Manchester, UK, and beaten by consular staff earlier this month.

The assault, in which Consul General Zheng Xiyuan was filmed pulling the activist’s hair, was widely condemned, but China responded defiantly, with Zheng defending his violent response as doing his “duty”.

Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in London posted a video threatening that harboring protesters from Hong Kong would “bring disaster to Britain”, underscoring the UK’s dependence on China as its third largest trading partner and main source of imports.

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