Five people have been arrested in connection with their roles in what U.S. officials call an aggressive Chinese government operation to track down dissidents and critics of Beijing in the United States and try to repatriate them.
The defendants — Zhu Yon, Hongru Jin, Michal McMahon, Ron Jing and Zheng Congying — were arrested Wednesday morning, officials said. Three other people also facing charges are not in custody and are believed to be in China.
U.S. officials say the defendants were part of a Chinese government effort known as "Operation Fox Hunt," which Beijing calls an anti-corruption campaign designed to bring suspects home for trial.
John Demers, the assistant attorney general of the National Security Division, says that's often not true.
"Some of the individuals may well be wanted on traditional criminal charges and they may even be guilty of what they are charged with," Demers said. "But in many instances the hunted are opponents of Communist Party Chairman Xi — political rivals, dissidents, and critics. And in either event, the operation is a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms."
There are established ways to request U.S. assistance in criminal cases, Demers said, but with Operation Fox Hunt, the Chinese government is employing illegal, unauthorized and often covert techniques outside the bounds of the law.
"Without coordination with our government, China's repatriation squads enter the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives, and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials," Demers said. "There are many established ways that rule of law-abiding nations conduct international law enforcement activity," he added. "This certainly isn't one of them."
International criminal charges
All eight defendants have been charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents of China, while six of them face an additional charge of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.
According to court papers, the defendants took part in an operation targeting an individual who lives in New Jersey and is identified only as "John Doe-1." The defendants allegedly threatened, harassed, surveilled and intimidated Doe to try to get him to return to China.
Their efforts allegedly included surveilling and harassing online Doe's adult daughter. The defendants also allegedly left a note on the door of Doe's home that 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 the matter!"