The US Department of Justice says it has charged eight defendants, including Chinese nationals, with involvement in an illegal campaign by the Chinese government to coerce US residents who had fled China to return to the country.
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.
They are accused of sending threatening letters, using night vision goggles to watch the family, recording and harassing the man's daughter and flying his elderly father from China in 2017 - reportedly against his will - to pressure him to return.
China on Thursday accused the USA of seeking to smear Beijing's efforts to pursue fugitives, a day after the Justice Department charged eight people with seeking to coerce a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges. Demers added that the operation is a "clear violation of the rule of law and global norms".
Three of the defendants - Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon - were arrested on Wednesday in NY and New Jersey. Three other people also facing charges are not in custody and are believed to be in China.
Court records showed that the alleged plot was known as "Operation Fox Hunt" and "Operation Skynet".
The six acted at the direction of Chinese government officials as they tried to force Chinese nationals in the United States to return to China through a multi-year campaign of stalking and harassment, according to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.
The Justice Department announcement comes at a time of rising tensions between the U.S. and China over the coronavirus pandemic, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed on Beijing.
In one instance, several of the defendants-along with CCP officials-attempted to bring the victim's elderly father from China to the United States against the father's will in April 2017 to "use surprise arrival of his elderly father to threaten and attempt to coerce" the victim to go back to China, where he would presumably face punishment, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and DOJ.
"China is violating laws and norms left and right", FBI Director Chris Wray said.
The five arrested defendants were identified as Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying.
"These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation-state".
The detainees are accused of "conspiracy to act in the United States as illegal agents in the People's Republic of China". "Instead, it's more like something we'd expect from an organized criminal syndicate", Wray said.
"One of the notes read, for example, 'if you are willing to go back to the mainland and stay 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be safe and alright. That's the end of the matter!" In addition, six defendants face charges related to conspiring to commit worldwide and interstate stalking.
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