Numerous individuals have been charged for acting as agents for the People's of the Republic of China in the United States, including in New Jersey, and taking part in a years-long illegal Chinese law enforcement operation known as "Operation Fox Hunt" that sought to harass people charged with crimes in China living in the United States and across the globe, as well as their families, the United States Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
The arrests come in a case that directly involves a country's efforts to undermine US laws, according to Acting U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of New York, Seth D. Ducharme, adding that the "Fox Hunt" campaign took place over a span of years.
The complaint and arrest warrants, unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn, charges eight individuals. Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon were arrested Wednesday. Meanwhile, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying were arrested in the Central District of California. Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun remain at large and are believed to be in China.
According to federal prosecutors, since 2014, at the direction of the Chinese government, China has been engaged in an international operation known as "Fox Hunt," a campaign described by the country as an international anti-corruption campaign in which it seeks to locate fugitives around the world to bring them back for trial in China. However, rather than rely on proper forms of international law enforcement cooperation, the accused allegedly took part 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," according to the United States Department of Justice.
According to federal prosecutors, the accused participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate an individual identified as John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to China.
Between 2016 and 2019, multiple PRC officials allegedly directed the individuals charged, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to the PRC, which included: surveillance and coercion, targeting and harrassing a victim's daughter, as well as the continued harassment of the victim.
According to the complaint, in April 2017, defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon, together with others, including the PRC officials, allegedly participated in a scheme to bring John Doe-1’s elderly father from the PRC to the United States against the father’s will and to use the surprise arrival of his elderly father to threaten and coerce John Doe-1’s return to the PRC.
The conspirators also allegedly discussed the false statements John Doe-1’s father should make to U.S. immigration authorities about the purpose of his travel to the United States and made efforts to destroy evidence and delete their electronic communications to avoid detection by U.S. law enforcement.
Additionally, between May 2017 and July 2018, Rong Jing and several co-conspirators allegedly targeted John Doe-1’s adult daughter for surveillance and online harassment to exert pressure on John Doe-1, according to the DOJ. An unidentified co-conspirator also sent harassing messages over social media to John Doe-1’s daughter and her friends related to the PRC’s interest in bringing back John Doe-1.
The harassment, however, extended to John Doe-1, according to federal prosecutors. In September 2018, Zheng Congying and another unidentified co-conspirator allegedly put a threatening note on the door of John Doe-1’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!” Between February 2019 and April 2019, other co-conspirators caused unsolicited packages to be sent to John Doe-1’s residence containing letters and a video with messages intended to coerce John Doe-1’s return to the PRC by threatening harm to family members still residing in China.
If convicted of the charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of the PRC, each of the eight defendants charged faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying also face an additional charge of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Attorney information was not immediately known.