TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Eight people were charged by the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday (Oct. 28) for carrying out a harassment campaign at the behest of the Chinese government to pressure political dissidents and fugitives living in America to return to China and face trial.
The alleged campaign was known as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet,” court records show and took place between 2016 and 2019, with the goal of targeting Chinese citizens living abroad and intimidating them into returning to China to face charges. Beijing has claimed the purpose of Operation Fox Hunt is to locate corrupt Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials who have fled the country, The New York Times said.
The suspects are accused of carrying out an elaborate plot that included hiring an American private investigator to track down Chinese nationals who had taken refuge in the U.S. and then stalking, surveilling, and threatening them and their family members, The New York Times reported. The criminal complaint released Wednesday alleges that the group plotted to target a former Chinese government worker, his wife, and daughter, who had been living in New Jersey since 2010.
The alleged harassment the family received included a note saying, “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 experienced threats over social media, video threats, and packages containing intimidating letters, Reuters reported.
All eight defendants in the case are charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents for a foreign government. U.S. law stipulates that anyone acting on the behalf of a foreign country must register and alert the Attorney General’s office.
Five of the people charged were arrested on Wednesday in New Jersey, New York, and California, while three remain at large, Justice Department officials said in a press conference. Those arrested on Wednesday were: Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying, while Hu Ji, Li Minjun, and Zhu Feng are currently believed to be in China. Washington does not have an extradition treaty with Beijing.
“With today’s charges, we have turned the P.R.C.’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head — the hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued,” said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, at the press conference. Demers added, “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,” according to The New York Times.
Justice Department officials did not name the Chinese nationals targeted, saying they needed protection from the Chinese government. They are believed to be former high-ranking CCP officials who may have benefited financially from their seats in the government before fleeing the country.