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Singaporean Dickson Yeo jailed 14 months in US for spying for China

WASHINGTON — A Singaporean academic who recruited American officials to provide classified political and defence information to China was jailed 14 months by a United States court on Friday (Oct 9).


Yeo Jun Wei, also called Dickson Yeo, was given a relatively light sentence and credited for 11 months already spent in prison because of his cooperation with the US authorities and also the threat of contracting Covid-19 in jail, Washington federal judge Tanya Chutkan said.


The sentence means that the 39-year-old could be released and expelled from the US by January next year.
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The sentence means that the 39-year-old could be released and expelled from the US by January next year.

In a sentencing hearing conducted by teleconference, Yeo appeared to break down as he expressed regrets, saying that he had no intention to harm anyone.

He said that he had been treated well by US justice authorities.


“All I’d like to do is to go home to my family,” he said.

Read also: US government seeks 16 months’ jail for Singaporean who worked for Chinese intelligence

However, 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.”

Yeo was a doctoral degree candidate at the National University of Singapore’s’ Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

Working with Chinese intelligence since 2015, he set up a political consultancy in Washington, which he used to identify Americans with high-level security clearances that he sought to pay for classified information.

He was arrested at an airport in November last year and pleaded guilty in July to one count of operating illegally as a foreign agent, which has a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Judge Chutkan told Yeo: “I’m going to punish you for what you did, not what you think.”

She added: “Mr Yeo worked under the direction of the intelligence service of the People’s Republic of China.

“The crime that Mr Yeo committed was not a momentary lapse of judgement.”

She also told Yeo: “I can tell you are a highly educated man and I have no doubt you understood you knew what you were doing.

“Your operation was designed to weaken the United States for the benefit of China.”

At the same time, Judge Chutkan said that she had to accept prosecutors’ assertions that Yeo cooperated well with investigators in the case.

In addition, she noted that 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.

Yeo had enrolled in LKYSPP’s public policy programme in 2015 and had applied for and was granted a leave of absence in 2019.

The school said in July following his plea that it had terminated his PhD candidature.

Ahead of his sentencing hearing on Friday, the US government had asked that he be jailed for 16 months.

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

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

She added that he suffers from elevated blood pressure and anxiety, as well as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his service in the military in Singapore.


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


He paid some of those individuals to write reports that were ostensibly for his clients in Asia, then handed the reports to the Chinese government.

Yeo was also directed by Chinese intelligence to open up a fake consultancy in the US and offer jobs, his indictment showed.

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

He used these and networking site LinkedIn to track down possible targets, focusing on people with top security clearances.

He 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 (S$2,705) for writing reports for Yeo.

Prosecutors said Friday that he never got as far as collecting highly classified information, but that was his intent. AGENCIES


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