US authorities have charged eight people with conspiring to work on China's behalf to surveil and coerce a Chinese family living in New Jersey to return to their home country to face criminal charges.
The alleged three-year plot, from 2016 to 2019, is believed to be part of the ruling Communist Party's "Operation Fox Hunt", an international anti-corruption campaign to intimidate Chinese fugitives living in foreign countries.
The defendants, among them six Chinese citizens and one an American-licensed private investigator, are alleged to have targeted a former Chinese government official who has lived in the US since 2010.
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.
In another instance highlighted by the criminal complaint, a threatening note was taped to the man's front door, which 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!"
All eight accused, three of whom remain at large, are charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents for a foreign government.
"This is the first case of its kind, and I think it is significant," said Seth DuCharme, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "What makes the case really stand out is that it directly involves the efforts of a foreign power to conduct unilateral activity here on US soil in violation of our laws."
The Chinese embassy has not commented on the matter.
According to notices posted by China with Interpol in 2012 and 2014, China listed the New Jersey man as a fugitive who is wanted for embezzlement, abuse of power and accepting bribes.