The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chinese prosecutor indicted in U.S. case targeting extralegal ‘Fox Hunt’ operation

NEW YORK — A prosecutor from China has been indicted in a federal U.S. case charging nine people with illegally acting as foreign agents in an effort to repatriate dissidents whom Chinese government officials wanted to lure back and punish, authorities said Thursday.

In October, the FBI announced charges against eight people who were allegedly engaged in a push to force immigrants from China to return there — an effort FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said meant that Beijing was “violating norms and laws left and right.”

A superseding indictment filed Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn also charges Chinese law enforcement official Tu Lan, accusing him of orchestrating a campaign known as “Fox Hunt” and ordering a co-conspirator to destroy evidence.

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement that Tu and other defendants, acting as agents of China, “carried out an illegal and clandestine campaign to harass and threaten targeted U.S. residents in order to force them to return to [China].”

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Some of the targeted individuals might have violated financial laws and were legitimate targets of law enforcement investigations, officials have said. But many others were political rivals, dissidents or critics of the Chinese government. Rather than use established legal systems such as Interpol or request assistance from U.S. law enforcement, U.S. officials have said, the Chinese agents tried to intimidate people into returning to China.

Tu, 50, who has not been apprehended, was working as a prosecutor for the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate when he allegedly broke U.S. laws in the course of trying to execute the plan. Accused of assisting Tu is 46-year-old Hu Ji, a police officer at the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, according to court documents.

In 2017, the pair allegedly ordered the elderly father of one of their targets brought to the United States as a way to put pressure on the target, listed in court papers as “John Doe #1,” who was led to believe his family would be harmed if he did not return to China. The target and his wife were harassed for two years by people working for the operation, prosecutors say.

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In 2018, operators allegedly left a note at the couple’s New Jersey home saying that if John Doe was “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!”

The case against the alleged agents is seen as an attempt by the United States to push back against China’s rogue practices, including computer hacking, influence operations and intellectual-property theft.

The identity of one defendant charged in the indictment is still sealed. Of the rest, several remain at large, officials said.

New Jersey private investigator Michael McMahon is expected to see a judge at a later date, along with co-defendants Zheng Congying and Zhu Yong. Attorneys for the three defendants were not immediately available for comment.

In addition to charging Tu, the superseding indictment adds several new counts related to alleged stalking and obstruction of justice.