U.S. charges 8 alleged Chinese agents in repatriation scheme

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Washington — Eight individuals have been charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents of China as part of an international repatriation scheme known as “Operation Fox Hunt” targeting political dissidents and critics, in which they stalked and harassed a Chinese man living in New Jersey and his family in an attempt to force them to return to China, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Five of the defendants, Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying, were arrested by federal authorities in New Jersey, New York and California, while the remaining three, Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun, remain at large, Justice Department officials said.

“It’s outrageous that China thinks it can come to our shores, conduct illegal operations and bend people here in the United States to their will,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a press conference announcing the charges.

According to the complaint filed in the federal district court in Brooklyn and unsealed Wednesday, the eight men, some of whom are lawful permanent residents of the U.S. and two of whom are U.S. citizens, played an active role in an international campaign to intimidate the New Jersey man, identified as John Doe-1, and his family in an attempt to force them to return to China. 

Federal prosecutors say John Doe-1 worked in China for a city government and has lived in the U.S. since 2010. The Chinese government claims he is wanted for embezzlement, abuse of power and acceptance of bribes, according to the complaint.

The scheme was part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” in which the Chinese government targets Chinese citizens living in foreign countries who are alleged to have committed crimes under Chinese law and seeks to forcibly repatriate them to face charges.

The Justice Department said the defendants “allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned and illegal conduct” within the U.S. from 2016 to 2019, including by pressuring John Doe-1 directly and targeting his family members, including his wife Jane Doe-1 and daughter, Jane Doe-2.

The complaint details efforts by six of the men — Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon, a private investigator in New Jersey and a U.S. citizen — in April 2017 to bring John Doe-1’s father from China to the U.S. against his will and use his arrival to coerce John Doe-1 to return to China.

Between May 2017 and July 2018, federal prosecutors say one of the defendants, Rong Jing, and co-conspirators surveilled John Doe-1’s daughter and harassed her online in an effort to ramp up the pressure on her father. One of the unidentified co-conspirators sent the daughter’s friends harassing messages on Facebook related to China’s interest in repatriating John Doe-1.

Then, in September 2018, Zheng Congying and another co-conspirator left a threatening note at John Doe-1’s home stating, “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!” the Justice Department said. The note threatened John Doe-1 and his family “with dire consequences” if they failed to return to China.

Between February 2019 and April 2019, packages were sent to John Doe-1’s house that included letters and a video with messages designed to pressure him to return to China, including by threatening to harm his family members who are still living in China.

Each of the eight individuals face a maximum of five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to act as an agent of China, while six also face an additional charge of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking.

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