The US Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Credit: File photo.

Officials at the US Department of Justice claimed they have turned China’s infamous “Operation Fox Hunt on its head” following an investigation which has brought charges against several defendants.

A complaint and arrest warrants were unsealed on Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn charging eight defendants with conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

According to a DOJ press release, the six defendants also face related charges of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking. 

The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” 

The latter operation was launched in 2014 at the direction of Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping, according to the release.

Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon were arrested today and will be arraigned this afternoon via teleconference before US Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo. Rong Jing and Zheng Congying were arrested in the Central District of California, and their initial appearances will take place in that district later today.  Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun remain at large.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. 

“The five defendants the FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally doing the bidding of the Chinese government here in the United States now face the prospect of prison.  For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear: stay out.  This behavior is not welcome here.”

Operation Fox Hunt is just one of many ways in which China disregards the rule of law, said Demers.  

China is also known for engaging in, among other things, extrajudicial pretrial custody, reeducation camps under the guise of counterterrorism efforts, refusal to fulfill its obligations under mutual legal assistance agreements, providing safe haven to criminal enterprises, including massive global hacking campaigns, and detention of foreign citizens for purposes of retaliation or political pressure on those citizens’ government, he said.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers announced a Chinese law enforcement case Oct. 28. Credit: Handout.

“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,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.  “The FBI will use all of its tools to investigate and defeat these outrageous actions by the Chinese government, which are an affront to America’s ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.”

“As alleged, the defendants assisted PRC officials in a scheme to coerce targeted individuals to return to the PRC against their will,” said Acting US Attorney Seth D. DuCharme. 

“The United States will not tolerate the conduct of PRC carrying out state-authorized actions on U.S. soil without notice to, and coordination with, the appropriate US authorities.  Nor will we tolerate the unlawful harassment and stalking of US residents to further PRC objectives.” 

Acting US Attorney DuCharme also extended his thanks and appreciation to the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office for their work on the case, the release stated.

“Today’s announcement of these charges further highlights the FBI’s ongoing and aggressive commitment to investigate China’s efforts to illegally impose its will in the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. of the FBI Newark Field Office. 

“This case should serve as a reminder to the People’s Republic of China that when it directs criminal activity within our borders, the FBI and its law enforcement partners will make sure the perpetrators are held accountable.”

“The worldwide presence and investigative capabilities of the Diplomatic Security Service enables us to work with our law enforcement partners domestically and around the world to bring criminals to justice,” said Keith Byrne, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Diplomatic Security Service.

China describes Fox Hunt as an international anti-corruption campaign in which it seeks to locate legitimate fugitives — some of them accused of financial crimes — and bring them to China to face genuine criminal charges, the release stated.

But rather than work with US authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extralegal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement activity.

Some of the individuals may well be wanted on traditional criminal charges and they may even be guilty of what they are charged with. But in many instances the hunted are opponents of Communist Party Chairman Xi — political rivals, dissidents and critics. 

— Sources: US Department of Justice