The United States Department of Justice has accused eight people of working for the Chinese government in a campaign to force a Chinese family wanted by Beijing to return to China to face charges, court documents show.Five of the eight, including a US private investigator hired to spy on the family, were arrested Wednesday in three US states.
The other three are said to be in China. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with the country, but it does require anyone acting on behalf of a foreign power to register with American authorities.
All eight are accused of conspiring to act as illegal agents for a foreign government, and are accused of participating in a covert operation which officials say was based on intimidation, harassment and abuse. “very disturbing” tactics to put pressure on Chinese nationals living abroad wanted by Beijing Go Home.
The alleged plot was known as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet”, according to court records. “This is the first such case, and I think it is significant,” said Seth DuCharme, the interim US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
“What makes the case truly remarkable is that it directly involves the efforts of a foreign power to conduct unilateral activity here on American soil, in violation of our laws.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy did not comment immediately in response to the allegations.
The criminal complaint alleges that the group conspired to target a former Chinese government employee and his wife and daughter, who have lived in New Jersey since 2010.
The harassment consisted of putting a “threat note” on their door. The note reportedly said, “If you’re ready to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and kids will be fine.” This is the end of this affair! The Ministry of Justice said in a press release. They also received threats on social media, as well as packets containing recorded video threats.
“With today’s charges, we have overthrown the PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt,” Deputy National Security Attorney General John Demers said in the statement. “The five defendants that the FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally applying for the Chinese government here in the United States now face the prospect of jail.
According to opinions released by China with Interpol in 2012 and 2014, China listed the New Jersey man as a wanted fugitive for embezzlement, abuse of power and accepting bribes.
Three of the defendants (Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin and Michael McMahon) were arrested in New York and New Jersey on Wednesday.
A judge orders McMahon to release a $500,000us bond secured by New Jersey property and denied a government request to detain Yong Zhu pending trial. He was also released on bail.
“I don’t understand because I haven’t done anything illegal,” Yong Zhu said through an interpreter. “I was exercising a legitimate profession of driver.”
Two others (Rong Jing and Zheng Congying) were arrested in California. The last three defendants, Zhu Feng, Hu Ji and Li Minjun are still at large.
The arrests are part of a series of recent actions the Trump administration has taken against China, a country President Donald Trump sees as a major rival.
In July, the Justice Department accused hackers working with the Chinese government of targeting companies developing coronavirus vaccines and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in intellectual property and trade secrets from companies around the world.