Eight people have been charged with conspiring to work on China’s behalf in a plot involving threatening letters and the use of night vision goggles to surveil and coerce a Chinese family to return to their home country to face charges, according to a U.S. criminal complaint unsealed on Wednesday.
Five of the individuals charged, including an American private investigator hired to help spy on the family, were arrested on Wednesday in New Jersey, New York and California, while the rest are believed to be in China, top Justice Department officials said in a news conference.
The alleged plot was known as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet,” court records show. Its goal was to target Chinese nationals living in foreign countries and intimidate them into returning to China to face charges.
The criminal complaint alleges that the group plotted to target a former Chinese government employee and his wife and daughter, who have been living in New Jersey since 2010.
The alleged harassment the family endured included receiving a threatening note that read: “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!”
“Today’s charges reflect yet another example of China’s ongoing and widespread lawless behavior,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Wednesday.
Three of the defendants – Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon – were arrested on Wednesday in New York and New Jersey, and will appear in court later in the day.
Two others – Rong Jing and Zheng Congying – were arrested in California. The last three defendants – Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun – remain at large.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball in Washington and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)