A US Olympic figure skater and her Chinese dissident father were among those targeted in the elaborate spying scheme revealed by the Justice Department on Wednesday.
Arthur Liu, father to Olympian Alysa Liu, told the Associated Press late Wednesday that his family had been surveilled at the direction of the Chinese government right before his daughter was set to compete in last month’s Beijing Winter Olympics.
“We believed Alysa had a very good chance of making the Olympic team and truly were very scared,” he said.
Liu is a former political refugee who fled China after taking part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests.
One of the five men who were charged Wednesday with spying on Chinese dissidents living in the US, Matthew Ziburis, allegedly contacted Liu in November, impersonating a US Olympic & Paralympic Committee official and asking for his and his 16-year-old daughter’s passport numbers.
“I didn’t feel good about it. I felt something fishy was going on,” the father said. “From my dealings with the U.S. Figure Skating association, they would never call me on the phone to get copies of our passports. I really cut it short once I realized what he was asking for.”
Liu did not provide the information to the spy and grew worried for his daughter who was set to compete in Beijing, where she ultimately came in 7th place in the women’s events. He hid what was going from her so she wouldn’t be distracted, he told the AP.
“This is her moment. This is her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games. I’m not going to let them stop her from going and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure she’s safe and I’m willing to make sacrifices so she can enjoy the moment,” Liu said. “I’m not going to let them win — to stop me — to silence me from expressing my opinions anywhere.”
He said the State Department promised it would provide Alysa with proper security while she in China.
“They are probably just trying to intimidate us, to … in a way threaten us not to say anything, to cause trouble to them and say anything political or related to human rights violations in China,” Arthur Liu said. “I had concerns about her safety. The US government did a good job protecting her.”
According to the complained unsealed Wednesday, Ziburis allegedly traveled to California’s Bay Area where the Liu family lives to surveil on them and try to coax private information from the family that he could then supply to the Chinese government.
Ziburis was arrested Tuesday and is facing charges of conspiring to commit interstate harassment and criminal use of a means of identification. He was released on $500,000 of bail.
Liu said his daughter had been approached by a stranger during the Olympics, who followed her and even asked to have her over at his apartment.
“I’ve kind of accepted my life to be like this because of what I chose to do in 1989, to speak up against the government,” he said. “And I know the Chinese government will extend their long hands into any corner in the world.
“I’m going to continue to enjoy life and live life as I want to live. I’m not going to let this push me down and I’m not going to let them succeed.”