On June 20, the federal court in Brooklyn, New York convicted a former New York City police sergeant and two Chinese nationals living in the United States in a trial related to Operation Fox Hunt, a Chinese campaign on American soil aimed at pressuring expatriates to return to China.
Asked about the convictions the following day, PRC Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said China’s law enforcement is always ready to cooperate and bring criminal suspects to justice.
“The U.S., on the other hand, has chosen to ignore the facts, deliberately distorted China’s efforts as something sinister and even resorted to judicial action. China firmly opposes this.”
That is false.
Details of the convictions released by the U.S. Department of Justice showed how these three individuals violated U.S. law by pressuring a Chinese man and his family to go back to China, using various methods of harassment and intimidation.
Retired NYPD sergeant, 55-year-old Michael McMahon, 27-year-old Zheng Congying and 66-year-old Jason Zhu had been found guilty of interstate stalking. McMahon and Zhu were also convicted of acting as illegal agents of the PRC. Zheng and Zhu are Chinese nationals living in the U.S.
Prosecutors said that Zhu hired McMahon, who was working as a private detective, to surveil a New Jersey resident wanted by Beijing. The Associated Press identified this wanted person as former Wuhan city official Xu Jin, who moved to the U.S. with his wife and daughter in 2010.
Between approximately 2016 and 2019, Zhu and McMahon “knowingly acted" at the direction of the PRC government officials to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate Xu into returning to China.
Zhu hired McMahon to obtain detailed information about Xu’s family, including their address, from a law enforcement database. McMahon also conducted surveillance outside the New Jersey home of Xu’s sister-in-law. He provided all the information in detailed reports to Zhu and other Chinese officials.
Meanwhile, Zheng stalked the Xu family, leaving a threatening note at their door that read: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be alright. That’s the end of this matter!”
The prosecutor said the operation was directed by several PRC law enforcement officials, including Hu Ji, a police officer with the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, and Tu Lan, a prosecutor with the Wuhan Procuratorate.
“The conviction of these three defendants – including a retired NYPD sergeant – is yet another powerful reminder of the Chinese government’s ongoing, pervasive, and illegal behavior here in the United States,” said Suzanne Turner, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
The convicted trio’s activities were part of Operation Fox Hunt, a global repatriation campaign launched by Chinese law enforcement in 2014 after Xi Jinping came to power.
China said the operation targeted those who had taken bribes or were accused of financial crimes.
Yet a 2021 ProPublica investigation found that the targets also included “dissidents, whistleblowers or relatively minor figures swept up in provincial conflicts.”
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said in 2020 that China was “using threats and intimidation” in Canada’s Chinese community through Operation Fox Hunt.
ProPublica quoted former U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers as saying China was setting a dangerous precedent by pursuing expatriates on U.S. soil, violating U.S. laws and abusing human rights in both countries.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act, a U.S. law enacted in 1938, requires “certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”
The penalty for a willful violation of FARA is imprisonment for less than five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
Under the Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act, interstate stalking is a federal crime punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment.