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Justice charges eight as part of alleged China conspiracy

The Department of Justice has charged multiple individuals for their alleged attempts to threaten, coerce or harass certain residents of the U.S. to repatriate to China.

Eight individuals were charged with conspiring to act in the U.S. as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), with six of the defendants also facing charges for conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. 

The agency says Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying have been arrested. The arrests took place across New York, New Jersey and California.

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Three others charged with crimes, Zhu Feng, Hu Ji and Li Minjun, remain at large, the Justice Department said. 

Beijing's efforts are part of Operation Fox Hunt, according to the DOJ.

“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,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a Wednesday press conference.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, who joined Wray at the press conference, said those who were doing the bidding of the Chinese government are now facing prison time. 

“With today’s charges, we have turned the PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head — the hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued,” Demers said.  

Beijing's goal with Operation Fox Hunt, according to the Justice Department, is to go after Chinese individuals living in foreign countries that Beijing alleges have committed crimes and then seek to bring them back to China to face charges.

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But these efforts attempt to go around the proper mechanisms for international law enforcement cooperation like Interpol. Instead, according to the complaint, those involved allegedly seek to clandestinely threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate their targets, all while sidestepping U.S. laws and cooperation with U.S. law enforcement.

U.S. officials say such efforts have become all too common.

One example is a scheme in 2017 by the defendants to bring the elderly father of someone identified as “John Doe-1” from China to the U.S. as an attempt to threaten and coerce John Doe-1 to return to China. 

Those involved used a private investigator to find where John Doe-1 and his wife lived. They also allegedly sought to destroy evidence, including their electronic communications, to help evade detection by U.S. law enforcement. 

Some of the defendants also sought to allegedly target John Doe-1’s adult daughter for surveillance and online harassment to help convince John Doe-1 to return to China.  

Demers noted that these operations, which began in 2014 at the direction of Chinese President Xi Jinping, are not only used to hunt fugitives who may legitimately be guilty of what they are being charged with, but also attempt to track down political rivals, dissidents and critics.

“And in either event, the operation is a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms,” Demers said.  

“Rather than work with U.S. authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extralegal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement activity.”