The Justice Department has announced charges against eight people over allegedly acting as Chinese government agents and taking part in an illegal Chinese law enforcement operation in the U.S.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Eight people are facing federal charges for their role in a Chinese government operation that allegedly targeted dissidents living in the United States. That news came from the Justice Department today, and NPR Justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here to tell us more.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi, there.
SHAPIRO: What was going on with this plot according to the DOJ?
LUCAS: Well, the Justice Department says that, for several years, the defendants waged, in essence, an intimidation campaign against a former Chinese government official who now lives in New Jersey. That former official is only identified as John Doe, but court papers do offer a lot of details about what the defendants were allegedly doing at the direction of the Chinese government. And they say in no uncertain terms that the defendants were stalking, threatening and harassing John Doe. And the goal was to try to get him to return against his will to China.
SHAPIRO: So stalking, harassing, threatening – tell us more about this intimidation campaign. What were the other elements of it?
LUCAS: Well, court papers provide a pretty detailed picture. They say the defendants followed and harassed Doe’s daughter. That included taking pictures and videos of her and harassing her online. They had packages sent to Doe’s home with intimidating letters and videos in them. They also went to his home, banged on his front door and left a written note taped on the door that read, quote, “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right.” They even went so far as to fly Doe’s elderly father against his will from China to the United States to meet with Doe and to deliver a message to him, which was to go back to China.
SHAPIRO: Hmm. Do Chinese government authorities often do this in foreign countries?
LUCAS: U.S. officials say they do. This is part of a Chinese government effort known as Operation Fox Hunt. China portrays it as an anti-corruption campaign, tracking down fugitives who live outside of China and bringing them back to the country for trial. Now, U.S. officials say sometimes there may indeed be legitimate criminal cases in China to be made against some of Operation Fox Hunt’s targets. But more often, it’s just targeting critics of the Chinese government. Here is how John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, put it today.
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JOHN DEMERS: In many instances, the hunted are opponents of Communist Party Chairman Xi – political rivals, dissidents, critics.
LUCAS: Now, Demers pointed out that there are regular channels for foreign governments to ask the United States for help in criminal cases. Countries do that all of the time. But that’s not what’s going on here. Here, Demers says, the Chinese government is using repatriation squads to try to force Chinese immigrants, who are often legal U.S. residents, to go back to China.
SHAPIRO: And so what happens next in this case?
LUCAS: Well, five of these defendants were arrested this morning. That happened in New York and New Jersey and California. One of those five, in fact, is a private investigator in New Jersey who allegedly took part in this. His name is Michael McMahon. The three other defendants are believed to be in China and so are not in American custody. Now, I have heard concerns from American officials for a couple of years now about Operation Fox Hunt and what the Chinese are up to. And now the Justice Department has, with these charges here, brought its first case against those who are allegedly involved in it.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Ryan Lucas.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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