The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced charges against seven Chinese nationals and one American man involved in what they said was an illegal law enforcement operation in the U.S. targeting dissidents and other political opponents.
Authorities say the arrests are in connection with operation “Fox Hunt,” which China describes as an “anti-corruption” campaign to bring fugitives back to China but which U.S. officials say is “not the whole story and oftentimes it simply isn’t true.” Five Chinese nationals involved in the operation on both the East and West Coasts were arrested but officials say three more suspects successfully fled to China.
According to the criminal complaint unsealed in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday, the eight people involved are Zhu Feng, 64; Hu Ji, 45; Li Minjun, 64; Hongru Jin, 30; Zhu Yong, Michael McMahon, 53; Rong Jing, 38; and Zheng Congying, 24. The individuals, who have all been charged with conspiracy to act as an illegal agent of a foreign government, conspired to work on behalf of China in an “international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil, and intimidate,” the complaint says. Six of them also face charges of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said the FBI operation “turned foxhunt on its head” and that the ”hunters became the hunted.”
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York also charged the eight suspects with violating interstate stalking laws in connection with a terrifying three-year campaign to “threaten, harass, and surveil” a U.S. victim, referred to only as “John Doe 1,” with the goal of pressuring him to return to China to face alleged violations of Chinese law.
Chinese agents used a host of illegal tactics to pressure John Doe and his family, including surveilling him with night vision goggles, enlisting the help of a U.S. private investigator to surveil the victim’s daughter, and leaving threatening notes on his door, Acting U.S. Attorney for EDNY Seth DuCharme said.
John Doe has lived in the U.S. with his wife since September 2010 and was previously employed in China as “an official in the city government,” the complaint says. The goal of the harassment, prosecutors allege, was to force John Doe back to China against his will.
“If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and kids will be safe and all right,” one note allegedly sent to John Doe read, according to DuCharme.
Other plans to pressure John Doe included bringing his elderly father from China to the U.S. to use the “unannounced presence… to threaten and attempt to coerce John Doe-1’s return,” and target his adult daughter online, the complaint says.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said that, as part of the operation, Chinese agents would often lean on their prey’s family in the U.S. with intimidation tactics. In one case, Wray said, agents from the People’s Republic visited a target’s family in the U.S. and told them that the “target had two options: return to China promptly or commit suicide.”
Prosecutors also charged Michael McMahon, a private investigator and the head of McMahon Investigative Group, alongside the seven Chinese nationals. McMahon allegedly provided the Chinese nationals who hired him with private travel and banking information on John Doe and his family and helped plan “a specific operation to stalk and attempt to repatriate John Doe-1,” according to a criminal complaint.
McMahon, who was tasked to surveil John Doe’s father, suggested to one suspect that they could “harass” John Doe by parking outside his house and letting “him know we are there,” the complaint says.
Later, the suspect told McMahon “they definitely grant u a nice trip if they can get [John Doe] back to China haha.”
Wray added that the multi-year investigation began when victims of stalking, harassment, and blackmailing from Chinese operatives complained to authorities. The case was investigated by the FBI and the National Security Division in D.C. and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.
“Today’s charges reflect yet another example of China’s ongoing and widespread lawless behavior,” Wray said.