DOJ charges 8 individuals for allegedly ‘threatening’ Chinese citizens in the U.S. to return to China

The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday unsealed a complaint and arrest warrants charging eight individuals with conspiring to act as “illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” in an “international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil, and intimidate” Chinese citizens residing in the United States to return to China.

“The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt’,” the Justice Department statement said.

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Five of these defendants were arrested Wednesday morning by FBI agents and face the prospect of prison. The names of those arrested include Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying. The first three are set to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon via teleconference. The three who were not arrested “remain at large,” the statement said.

John Demers, the assistant attorney general for the department’s National Security division, said the other three are suspected to be in China, per Reuters.

“For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct,” said Demers, “our message is clear: stay out. This behavior is not welcome here.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray had some additional strong words for China and other potential illegal agents of the authoritarian regime.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Furthermore, the statement goes on to explain other aspects of this alleged plot, known within the PRC as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet”:

“In furtherance of the operation, the PRC government targets Chinese individuals living in foreign countries that the PRC government alleges have committed crimes under PRC law and seeks to repatriate them to the PRC to 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. Between 2016 and 2019, multiple PRC Officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to the PRC.”

It then details many of these specific instances where PRC government officials directed the aforementioned defendants, including one situation where they targeted a New Jersey resident and his family to try and force them to come back to China.

“The United States will not tolerate the conduct of PRC carrying out state-authorized actions on U.S. soil without notice to, and coordination with, the appropriate U.S. authorities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme. “Nor will we tolerate the unlawful harassment and stalking of U.S. residents to further PRC objectives.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.