Olympic figure skater Alysa Liu and her Chinese dissident father Arthur Liu were reportedly targeted by a Chinese spying operation in the United States last year, the Department of Justice revealed on Wednesday.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Wednesday, Arthur Liu said the FBI contacted him about a spying scheme in October 2021. The news came to the family just as his daughter was preparing for her competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He did not tell her about the issue, however, out of concern it would only distract her.
Arthur Liu said he discovered he was a target of a scheme to stalk and harass Chinese dissidents in the U.S. in a criminal complaint filed against five accused men. His name was reportedly included in the complaint, which referred to him as “Dissident 3” and his daughter as a “family member.”
Arthur Liu, who fled China as a political refugee after protesting against the Chinese government following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, said someone approached them in November posing as an official with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and asking for his and his daughter’s passport numbers.
“I didn’t feel good about it. I felt something fishy was going on,” Arthur Liu told AP. “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.”
The man was later identified as Matthew Ziburis, who was allegedly hired to conduct surveillance on Arthur Liu. He was reportedly arrested on Tuesday on charges including conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and illegal use of a means of identification.. Ziburis was released from detention on a $500,000 bond.
Prosecutors alleged Ziburis tried to threaten Arthur by saying he would delay or deny his daughter’s international travel after the father refused to give him their passport numbers.
Despite the alleged intimidation, Liu’s daughter was able to fulfill her dream of competing at the Olympics after the State Department and the U.S. Olympic Committee assured him that they would protect Alysa Liu at all times.
“This is her moment,” Arthur Liu said. “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.”
During the Winter Olympics, Alysa Liu told her father that a man approached her after her free skate event one night and had asked her to come with him to his apartment. He allegedly followed the athlete while at the venue.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denied the allegations on Thursday and accused the U.S. of “making an issue of this out of thin air.”
“China always asks Chinese citizens to abide by the laws and regulations of host countries, and we would never ask our citizens to engage in activities that violate local laws,” Zhao told reporters. “The so-called transnational harassment schemes are just trumped up.”
In an Instagram post on Thursday, Alysa Liu asked users to “please refrain from commenting” about what her family is going through, sharing that she was proud of what her father did in 1989.
“Also for those who are saying ‘what even is figure skating anymore’ or ‘is this what figure skating is,’ my family’s situation has nothing to do with figure skating. This is happening because of my dad’s brave actions during the Tiananmen Square massacre,” Alysa said in another Instagram post.
“This is what life is like for those who have family members connected to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Even if I wasn’t a figure skater, this would all still be happening.”