DOJ Charges Eight Chinese Operatives for Efforts to Round Up Dissidents

The Justice Department announced that eight Chinese operatives were charged for allegedly carrying out an illegal law enforcement operation in the U.S. aimed at pressuring dissidents to return to China.

The operatives were acting as agents of the People’s Republic of China in carrying out what’s known as Operation Fox Hunt, which the Chinese government portrays as an effort to track down “legitimate fugitives,” John Demers, head of the department’s national security division, told reporters on Wednesday. The eight included five people who were arrested in the U.S., Demers said.

“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. “The charges announced today are an unambiguous statement that the United States will not tolerate this type of flagrant conduct on our shores.”

DOJ Charges Eight Chinese Operatives for Efforts to Round Up Dissidents

Faced with an escalating series of actions by U.S. officials, China has retaliated in kind, and tensions between the two nations are at their highest in a generation.

“The U.S. turns a blind eye to basic facts and smears work by the Chinese side,” China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Thursday when asked about the charges. “We firmly oppose that.”

China has “been carrying out law enforcement cooperation with other countries in accordance with international law and bilateral agreements,” Wang said.

‘So Shameless’

“Washington is so shameless,” Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-backed Global Times, said in a tweet. “Fox Hunt specifically targets corrupt individuals who have fled abroad.”

A criminal complaint unsealed by the Justice Department said that “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,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed by the Justice Department.

According to the complaint, the individuals harassed and conducted surveillance of a resident of New Jersey, who wasn’t identified, and his family in an unsuccessful effort to force them to return to the China. One victim, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, was even told he had to make a choice between returning to China or committing suicide.

China directed its operatives to coerce people in the U.S. from 2016 to 2019, according to the complaint.

U.S. officials have previously issued warnings about Operation Fox Hunt, which they’ve described as a “rogue law enforcement” operation to suppress dissidents and critics.

Chinese officials seek out hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the U.S. and pressure them to return to China under the operation, rather than go through legitimate law enforcement channels, the U.S. says.

One of those arrested, Zhu Yong, 64, was described by prosecutors as having “played a critical role” in the scheme and the U.S. urged a judge not to release him on bail, saying he could flee to China or to the country’s consulate in New York to evade prosecution.

Zhu was accused of hiring a private investigator who allegedly surveilled a Chinese national identified in court papers only as John Doe 1, and his family.

The government said the defendants photographed and sent harassing messages to Doe’s daughter and put a note on one front door that said, “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 this matter!”

They also threatened to harm his family members still living in China and brought his father from China to the New York area against the elderly man’s will to “attempt to coerce” Doe’s return to China, according to prosecutors

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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