US charges 9 with involvement in Beijing’s ‘Operation Fox Hunt’, including a Chinese prosecutor
- The individuals are believed to be part of China’s ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ programme targeting overseas citizens facing prosecution in China
- A Chinese prosecutor, Tu Lan from the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate, was added as a new defendant in the case
A Chinese prosecutor has been accused of travelling to America to direct a harassment campaign against a US resident and his family, and then ordering the destruction of evidence related to those actions, according to the US Justice Department.
The prosecutor, Tu Lan from the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate, was added as a new defendant in the case. She is accused of helping to bring an unnamed target’s father to the US to “convey a threat” that his family in China would be harmed if he did not return to the country to face prosecution.
“As alleged, the defendants, acting as agents of the [People’s Republic of China], carried out an illegal and clandestine campaign to harass and threaten targeted US residents in order to force them to return to the [People’s Republic of China],” said Jacquelyn Kasulis, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where the case is being prosecuted.
“Unregistered, roving agents of a foreign power are not permitted to engage in secret surveillance of US residents on American soil, and their illegal conduct will be met with the full force of US law,” she said.
China said the US was slandering its efforts to pursue criminal suspects overseas.
Voicing China’s opposition to the charges, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that the US ignored China’s request for cooperation on fugitives.
“The US ignores basic facts and slanders and smears China’s work in pursuit of fugitives. China firmly opposes this,” Zhao said.
The target in the US, who is not named in the indictment, was described in the document as a former municipal government official in China who came to the US sometime around 2010.
The department said he was wanted in China for “embezzlement, abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes”, which carry a maximum possible penalty of death under Chinese law. His wife was wanted in China for “accepting bribes”, which carries a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.
According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to bring the target’s elderly father to the US so that he could persuade his son to return to China.
They told him to lie to US authorities about the nature of his trip to the United States, according to the indictment, and hired private investigator and former New York City Police Department officer Michael McMahon – a defendant in the case – to surveil the target.
The scheme was led in part by Tu, who flew to the US ahead of the father’s arrival, according to the court document. After Tu returned to China, she continued to issue orders to the group about how they should proceed, the Justice Department said.
Defendant Hu Ji, a police officer with the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, was also involved in the alleged plot, according to the Justice Department.
The target did not return to China, and the elderly father was allegedly hostile to his minders on the flight home after leaving the US.
US charges 8 as Chinese agents, accusing them of targeting dissidents in America
Tu told defendant Zhu Feng to “delete all the chat content”, according to the court document.
Months later, the superseding indictment said, some of the defendants tried to break into the alleged victim’s residence in New Jersey, “pounded on the front door” and tried to forced it open, and left a handwritten note: “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 Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the case.
Three of the defendants will be arraigned at a later date, including the former New York City police officer, while others are still at large, according to the Justice Department.
The former police officer’s lawyer, Lawrence Lustberg, said: “Mike McMahon, a highly decorated New York City police officer and a hero, is totally innocent of the charges in the superseding indictment, as he was of the original indictment.
“In fact, far from having conspired with anyone, or of having committed any crimes, Mike was himself a victim of the Chinese, who deceived and duped him and never told him that he was working for them, as opposed to for a construction company – which is what they said.”
One of the defendants in the original indictment from last year, a US permanent resident from China named Rong Jing, already pleaded guilty in March.
Another new defendant added to the superseding indictment this week was a Chinese citizen named Zhai Yongqiang, according to the Justice Department, who is accused of helping lead the effort to find the target’s adult daughter.
According to the court document, an alleged conspirator sent “unsolicited and derogatory messages” about the target, his wife, and daughter to the Facebook friends of the daughter and her spouse.
The defendants in the superseding indictment have been charged with acting as unregistered agents of China, conspiring to act as unregistered agents of China, interstate stalking, and conspiring to engage in interstate stalking. The Justice Department said that they could face potentially years in prison if they were convicted.
Two of the defendants still at large, including Tu, were also charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
“Law enforcement officials around the world act according to a professional code of conduct,” said Mark Lesko, acting assistant attorney general for national security.
“That a prosecutor and police officer not only directed and participated in a criminal scheme on US soil, but then attempted to cover it up, is an affront to justice of the highest order.”
Additional reporting by Teddy Ng