- Federal prosecutors charged seven Chinese nationals and a former NYPD sergeant on Wednesday of acting illegally as agents of the People’s Republic of China.
- The defendants allegedly engaged in a harassment campaign to try to force a Chinese national living in New Jersey to return to China to face prison time.
- A Justice Department official said that the surveillance effort was part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” an effort directed by Beijing to track down political opponents and dissidents living in the U.S. and other countries.
Operatives of the Chinese government hired a former New York City police sergeant to surveil and harass a Chinese national living in New Jersey to try to get him to return to China to face a 10-year prison sentence, federal prosecutors alleged in a complaint filed Wednesday.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers announced on Wednesday that seven Chinese nationals and the former officer, Michael McMahon, were charged with conspiring to act as unregistered agents of China.
Five of the defendants, including McMahon, were charged with conspiracy to engage in international stalking.
According to the government’s complaint, the conspirators targeted a Chinese national living in New Jersey with threats to force him to return to China to face prison time.
“The defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned, and illegal conduct within the United States and facilitated the travel of [Chinese] government officials … to U.S. soil in order to further carry out these illegal acts,” the Justice Department said in an announcement of the charges.
The complaint says that five Chinese nationals began working with McMahon in April 2017 to bring the target’s elderly father from China to the U.S. in order to force the target to return to China.
The complaint alleges that McMahon’s job was to track down the target by surveilling his father in China.
The complaint says that one conspirator, Zheng Congying, put a note on the door of the target’s residence in September 2018 threatening harm to his family if he did not return to China.
“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!” the message said, according to the complaint.
The co-conspirators sent videos and letters to the target’s home between February 2019 and April 2019 with similar threats, the complaint alleges.
Wray and Demers said that the effort to track down the Chinese national was part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” a Chinese government-led campaign to track down Chinese dissidents living in other countries.
Demers said that Chinese President Xi Jinping set up Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 under the guise of tracking down Chinese nationals accused of corruption.
Demers said Beijing also uses the operation to hunt down dissidents and critics of Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
“Some of the individuals may well be wanted on traditional criminal charges and they may even be guilty of what they are charged with,” Demers said at a news conference announcing the charges.
“But in many instances the hunted are opponents of Communist Party Chairman Xi — political rivals, dissidents and critics.”
In August, federal prosecutors announced charges against New York City police officer Baimadajie Angwang, who allegedly surveilled Tibetan dissidents living in New York.
Angwang allegedly kept tabs on members of the Tibetan dissident community and reported their activities back to a Chinese diplomat in the consulate in New York City.
“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,” Demers said Wednesday.
According to the Justice Department, McMahon and two others, Zhu Yong and Hongru Jin, were arrested on Wednesday and will appear before a magistrate judge later in the day.
Two other conspirators were arrested in California. Three conspirators remain at large. Demers said they are believed to be in China.
The complaint says that McMahon owns the McMahon Investigative Group. McMahon’s LinkedIn page says that he was a New York Police Department sergeant from 1989 to 2003.
Phone calls to McMahon and his office were not answered.
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