The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged nine individuals, including a Chinese prosecutor, with conspiring to act as illegal agents of China, international stalking, and obstruction of justice.
According to the indictment filed Thursday by a federal grand jury in New York, the individuals charged were Lan Tu, Yongqiang Zhai, Ji Hu, Minjun Li, Feng Zhu, Michael McMahon, Congying Zheng, and Yong Zhu aka Jason Zhu. All but Tu and Zhai were already charged in a related criminal complaint issued in October and a related indictment in May. At least four of the nine individuals were residing in the US at the time of the indictment. The name of the ninth individual has not been made public.
It is alleged that Zhu, Hu, and Jason Zhu worked with McMahon, a private investigator, to gather intelligence about the location of their targets. It is further alleged that Tu, a prosecutor from the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate, traveled to the US, directed the harassment campaign, and ordered a co-conspirator to destroy evidence to obstruct the criminal investigation.
According to the indictment documents, the defendants, allegedly acting under the direction and under the control of Chinese 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 known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt.’”
Some of the individuals targeted by the defendants included fugitives attempting to escape the death penalty or life imprisonment for bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power. In one instance, it is alleged that Tu and Hu directed the use of a target’s father to send a message that his family in China would be harmed if he did not return to the country. In another, two of the defendants allegedly attempted to force open the door to a target’s residence and left a note stating “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 DOJ and the FBI Counterintelligence Division released a joint statement of the charges:
Law enforcement officials around the world act according to a professional code of conduct…They act to enforce the law, not to violate it in such an egregious manner. That a prosecutor and police officer not only directed and participated in a criminal scheme on U.S. soil, but then attempted to cover it up, is an affront to justice of the highest order…the defendants, acting as agents of the PRC, carried out an illegal and clandestine campaign to harass and threaten targeted U.S. residents in order to force them to return to the PRC…the Chinese government sent operatives to America to harass, surveil, and coerce U.S. residents to return to China. These acts are undemocratic, authoritarian, and contrary to the rule of law…The FBI will continue to protect those who are victims of harassment and intimidation by the government of China, or any other government practicing these tactics.
Stating that Chinese government agents are required to register with the US Attorney General, coordinate with US officials, and adhere to US laws and protocols if they seek to repatriate Chinese citizens back to their country, Acting US Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis warned that secret surveillance of residents on US soil by unregistered agents will be met with the full force of the law.
The acting and conspiracy to act as foreign agents is punishable with ten years and five years in prison, respectively, while the interstate stalking and conspiring to engage in interstate stalking charges are punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each charge. Tu and Zhu face an additional 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
These charges come within a week of the Treasury Department’s announcement of sanctions against seven Chinese government officials over the Hong Kong democracy crackdowns, potentially escalating tension between the two countries.