Eight people have been charged with conspiring to work on behalf of China’s government in a plot to coerce a Chinese family in the US to return to their home country to face charges.
Five of the individuals charged, including an American private investigator, were arrested on Wednesday in New Jersey, New York and California.
The rest are believed to be in China, top justice department officials said in a news conference.
John Demers, an assistant attorney general, said the suspects were all involved in a global Chinese operation known as “Fox Hunt” aimed at pressuring targets sought by Beijing.
“China describes Fox Hunt as an international anti-corruption campaign in which it seeks to locate legitimate fugitives around the world and bring them to China to face genuine criminal charges,” Demers said.
“But in many instances the hunted are opponents of Communist party chairman Xi – political rivals, dissidents and critics,” he said. “In either event, the operation is a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms.”
All eight defendants in the case are charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents for a foreign government.Advertisement
“This is the first case of its kind, and I think it is significant,” said the acting US attorney for the eastern district of New York, Seth DuCharme.
“What makes the case really stand out is that it directly involves the efforts of a foreign power to conduct unilateral activity here on US soil, in violation of our laws.”
The criminal complaint alleges that the group plotted to target a former Chinese government employee and his wife and daughter, who have been living in New Jersey since 2010.
The alleged harassment the family endured included receiving a threatening note that read: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”
The family also received threats on social media, as well as packages that contained letters along with taped video threats.
According to notices posted by China with International Criminal Police Organization in 2012 and 2014, China listed the New Jersey man as a fugitive who is wanted for embezzlement, abuse of power and accepting bribes.
Three of the defendants – Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin and Michael McMahon – were arrested on Wednesday in New York and New Jersey, and will appear in court later in the day.
Two others – Rong Jing and Zheng Congying – were arrested in California. The last three defendants – Zhu Feng, Hu Ji and Li Minjun – remain at large.
According to his LinkedIn profile, McMahon is a former New York police department sergeant who retired from the force in 2003.
“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,” the FBI director, Christopher Wray, said.