NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Five people were arrested Wednesday and three more was being sought on charges they illegally acted as agents of China.
The eight acted at the direction of the Chinese government 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.
Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong and Michael McMahon were arrested in the Northeast, while Rong Jing and Zheng Congving were arrested in California. Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun remain at large.
"The defendants assisted (People's Republic of China) officials in a scheme to coerce certain individuals to return to the PRC against their will," acting United States Attorney Seth DuCharme said.
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The alleged campaign, known in China as either Operation Fox Hunt or Operation Skynet, targeted Chinese nationals living abroad who are alleged to have committed crimes in China.
Rather than rely on official channels for repatriation, federal prosecutors said the campaign used "clandestine, unsanctioned and illegal conduct with the United States."
"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," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said. "The five defendants the FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally doing the bidding of the Chinese government here in the United States now face the prospect of prison. For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear: stay out. This behavior is not welcome here."
Among the targets was a resident of New Jersey identified in court records as John Doe-1, whose elderly father was brought to the US from China against his will "to use the surprise arrival...to threaten and attempt to coerce John Doe-1's return to the PRC," prosecutors said.
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As part of the campaign to exert pressure on John Doe-1, his adult daughter was put under surveillance and targeted for online harassment, according to court records. .
Later, unsolicited packages were sent to his residence with letters and videos threatening harm to family members if he did not return.
"The United States will not tolerate the conduct of PRC official business on U.S. soil without notice to and coordination with the appropriate U.S. authorities," DuCharme said. "Nor will we tolerate the unlawful harassment and stalking of U.S. residents to further PRC objectives."
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8 charged with acting as agents of China in years-long stalking, harassment campaign