PRC Officials Directed Multi-Year Campaign of Harassment and Stalking; Directed at U.S. Residents to Force Their Return to PRC
A complaint and arrest warrants were unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging eight defendants with conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Six defendants also face related charges of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking. 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 known as “Operation Fox Hunt.”
Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon were arrested today and will be arraigned this afternoon via teleconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo. Rong Jing and Zheng Congying were arrested in the Central District of California, and their initial appearances will take place in that district later today. Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun remain at large.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “The five defendants the FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally doing the bidding of the Chinese government here in the United States now face the prospect of prison. For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear: stay out. This behavior is not welcome here.”
“The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten, and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI will use all of its tools to investigate and defeat these outrageous actions by the Chinese government, which are an affront to America’s ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.”
“As alleged, the defendants assisted PRC officials in a scheme to coerce targeted individuals to return to the PRC against their will,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme. “The United States will not tolerate the conduct of PRC carrying out state-authorized actions on U.S. soil without notice to, and coordination with, the appropriate U.S. authorities. Nor will we tolerate the unlawful harassment and stalking of U.S. residents to further PRC objectives.” Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme also extended his thanks and appreciation to the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office for their work on the case.
“Today’s announcement of these charges further highlights the FBI’s ongoing and aggressive commitment to investigate China’s efforts to illegally impose its will in the United States”, said Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. of the FBI Newark Field Office. “This case should serve as a reminder to the People’s Republic of China that when it directs criminal activity within our borders, the FBI and its law enforcement partners will make sure the perpetrators are held accountable.”
“The worldwide presence and investigative capabilities of the Diplomatic Security Service enables us to work with our law enforcement partners domestically and around the world to bring criminals to justice,” said Keith Byrne, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Diplomatic Security Service.
According to the complaint, the defendants participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to the PRC as part of an international effort by the PRC government known within the PRC as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet.” In furtherance of the operation, the PRC government targets Chinese individuals living in foreign countries that the PRC government alleges have committed crimes under PRC law and seeks to repatriate them to the PRC to face charges. Rather than rely upon proper forms of international law enforcement cooperation, such as Interpol “red notices” and requests for information through appropriate governmental channels, the defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned, and illegal conduct within the United States and facilitated the travel of PRC government officials (PRC Officials) to U.S. soil in order to further carry out these illegal acts. Between 2016 and 2019, multiple PRC Officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to the PRC, which included the following:
Surveillance and Coercion
In April 2017, defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon, together with others, including the PRC Officials, allegedly participated in a scheme to bring John Doe-1’s elderly father from the PRC to the United States against the father’s will and to use the surprise arrival of his elderly father to threaten and attempt to coerce John Doe-1’s return to the PRC. Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Zhu Yong worked with Michael McMahon, a private investigator, to gather intelligence about and locate John Doe-1 and his wife in the United States. PRC Officials coerced the father of John Doe-1 to travel from the PRC to the New York area in the company of Li Minjun, a doctor, who traveled with the elderly father from the PRC to the New York area. Hongru Jin assisted with logistics of the operation when Zhu Feng, Li Minjun, John Doe-1’s elderly father, and other PRC officials arrived in the U.S.
As charged in the complaint, during this phase of the scheme, McMahon, whose task was to surveil John Doe-1’s father in order to locate John Doe-1 and his wife, suggested to Zhu Feng that they could “harass [John Doe-1]. Park outside his home and let him know we are there.” Later, Zhu Feng told McMahon, “[t]hey definitely grant u a nice trip if they can get [John Doe-1] back to China haha.”
The conspirators also discussed the false statements John Doe-1’s father should make to U.S. immigration authorities about the purpose of his travel to the United States. The conspirators also made efforts to destroy evidence and delete their electronic communications to avoid detection by U.S. law enforcement.
Targeting and Harassment of Victims’ Daughter
Between May 2017 and July 2018, Rong Jing and several co-conspirators allegedly targeted John Doe-1’s adult daughter for surveillance and online harassment. Specifically, Rong Jing attempted to hire a private investigator to locate John Doe-1’s adult daughter in order to photograph and video record the daughter as part of a campaign to exert pressure on John Doe-1. Around the same time, an unidentified co-conspirator sent harassing messages over social media to John Doe-1’s daughter and her friends related to the PRC’s interest in repatriating John Doe-1.
Continued Harassment of Victims
In September 2018, Zheng Congying and another unidentified co-conspirator allegedly affixed a threatening note to the door of the John Doe-1’s residence stating, “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!” Between February 2019 and April 2019, other co-conspirators caused unsolicited packages to be sent to John Doe-1’s residence. These packages contained letters and a video with messages intended to coerce John Doe-1’s return to the PRC by threatening harm to family members still residing in the PRC.
The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted of the charged conspiracy to act as an agent of the PRC, each of the eight defendants charged today faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying also face an additional charge of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Craig R. Heeren and J. Matthew Haggans are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.