The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced that eight individuals had been charged with conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) after allegedly harassing and stalking certain U.S. citizens to coerce them to return to China in an “extralegal repatriation scheme” dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt.”
Three defendants, Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon were arrested Wednesday in New York and are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon at a teleconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo. Two others, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying, were arrested in California, and will appear before a magistrate judge later today.
The three remaining defendants, Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun remain at large and may have already escaped back to China.
According to the complaint, the defendants engaged in a concerted campaign to “threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate” Chinese individuals living in foreign countries that the PRC government claims have committed crimes under PRC law. The purpose of the operation was allegedly to repatriate these individuals so they could face charges.
“Rather than rely upon proper forms of international law enforcement cooperation, such as Interpol ‘red notices’ and requests for information through appropriate governmental channels, the defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned, and illegal conduct within the United States and facilitated the travel of PRC government officials (PRC Officials) to U.S. soil in order to further carry out these illegal acts,” the DOJ said in a press release.
For example, prosecutors claim that in 2018 Zheng Congying and another unidentified alleged co-conspirator placed a threatening note on the door of an unnamed victim’s residence which read: “If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”
In 2019, other co-conspirators allegedly sent unsolicited packages to the same victim containing letters and a video with messages aimed at coercing return by threatening to harm all of the family he still had back in the PRC.
“The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten, and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a Wednesday morning press conference. “The FBI will use all of its tools to investigate and defeat these outrageous actions by the Chinese government, which are an affront to America’s ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.”
The conspiracy to act an agent of the PRC charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying are also facing an additional charge of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking, which also carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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