Operation Fox Hunt: US indicts seven Chinese nationals in alleged plot to bring fugitive back to China

New York

The United States has indicted seven Chinese nationals for an alleged plot to bring a U.S. resident back to China to face criminal charges.

The case is linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives. The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens accused of corruption who fled the country with large sums of money.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the Chinese government’s law enforcement actions on U.S. soil were “unilaterally without the approval or coordination of the U.S. government.”

On Thursday, the Justice Department said the charges against the seven defendants included “conspiracy to act as an illegal agent of the People’s Republic of China in the United States.”

Two people have been arrested and detained, the remaining five accused are at large. If convicted of acting as Chinese agents, the defendants face up to 10 years in prison.

According to an indictment unsealed Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn, Chinese officials and their assets threatened the targets and their families, including family members still living in China, with harm, including imprisonment, to force them to return to China. Authorities say the defendants surveilled a US resident in New York and engaged in a “campaign of harassment” to bring him back to China.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said, “The United States will resolutely confront these egregious violations of national sovereignty and prosecute individuals who act as illegal agents of foreign states.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The Justice Department says that beginning around 2002, the Chinese government targeted a citizen living in the eastern district of New York, identified as John Doe-1.

On or about May 16, 2002, the Chinese government caused Interpol to issue a “red notice” for John Doe-1; a worldwide request notifying member states of a wanted fugitive, with information on their identity and suspected criminal conduct. complaint.

The red notice issued to John Doe-1 outlined 2 million Chinese yuan (about $276,000) in public funds while he was working as the CEO of a state-owned corporation in China. The prosecution said the charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison in China.

According to the indictment, in 2017, the defendants and various co-conspirators forced a family member of John Doe-1 to travel from China to the United States to be reunited with his son. The Chinese family member allegedly relayed threats from the Chinese government to John Doe-1’s son, which were intended to return him to China.

The indictment said the defendants wrote letters warning that “returning and surrendering yourself is the only way out” and threatening that “avoidance and reluctance will only lead to severe legal penalties.”

He also said that China “persecuted” John Doe-1 and his son by filing a civil lawsuit in a New York court in 2019, alleging that John Doe-1 had stolen funds from his former Chinese employer. The Justice Department said the defendants told the victims that the case would be dropped if John Doe-1 was returned to China.

The indictment alleges that the main defendant transmitted threats on behalf of the Chinese government to John Doe-1 through his son, including that if John Doe-1 did not return, the Chinese government would hit his relatives in China, “keep bothering him.” , [and] make your daily life uncomfortable”.

“They’ll definitely find new ways to bother you” and “it’s imperative that all of your relatives get involved,” the defendant once said, according to the indictment.

The main defendant allegedly met with John Doe-1’s son in January 2020 and apparently offered to pay the money owed to the Chinese government “to help settle the matter” if John Doe-1 agreed to return to China. The defendant said that if this happened, John Doe-1 would not be arrested in China.

One of the defendants reportedly met with John Doe-1’s son in September this year and sought agreement to return John Doe-1 to China ahead of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a week-long gathering of political elites that began in Beijing. on sunday As part of this agreement, the defendant allegedly requested a written confession from John Doe-1 to submit to the Chinese government.

“The victims in this case wanted to escape an authoritarian government, leaving their lives and families behind, for a better life here. That same government sent agents to the United States to harass, threaten and force their return to the People’s Republic of China,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said in a Justice Department statement.

“The actions we report are illegal, and the FBI will not allow adversaries to break the laws designed to protect our nation and our freedom.”