Federal authorities have charged seven Chinese nationals over an alleged long-running harassment campaign to try and intimidate a U.S. resident into returning to China.
The eight-count indictment, which was unsealed Thursday in a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, is the latest case brought by the Justice Department as part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” described by the FBI as an illegal global effort by China to locate and repatriate alleged fugitives who have fled to foreign countries.
“As alleged, the defendants engaged in a unilateral and uncoordinated law enforcement action on U.S. soil on behalf of the government of the People’s Republic of China, in an effort to cause the forced repatriation of a U.S. resident to China,” United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in statement Thursday.
“The United States will firmly counter such outrageous violations of national sovereignty and prosecute individuals who act as illegal agents of foreign states,” he added.
Quanzhong An, 55, “a businessman operating in Queens, New York, and the majority shareholder of a hotel in Flushing, acted as the primary U.S.-based liaison” in the plot against the victim identified as John Doe-1 and his family members, including his son, identified as John Doe-2, the indictment said.
It added that An met repeatedly with the man in 2020, 2021 and 2022 seeking to persuade him to return to China, where An and the rest alleged he had stolen money from his employer. An told him the lawsuit would be dropped if he did so, according to the indictment.
An's daughter, Guangyang An, 34, was also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering for allegedly enlisting dozens of third parties to transfer millions of dollars from China to the U.S. in smaller increments to avoid running afoul of U.S. money laundering laws. She was also charged with one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate harassment.
Both An and his daughter pleaded not guilty at an initial court appearance on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
Five others, Tian Peng, Chenghua Chen, Chunde Ming, Xuexin Hou, and Weidong Yuan, remain at large in China.
As part of the plot, the defendants allegedly forced a family member, known as John Doe-3, to travel from China to the U.S. to convince John Doe-1 to return to the country.
Meeting in a Queens restaurant in September 2018, the family member told John Doe-2 he had been forced to travel to the United States by the Provincial Commission to repatriate the 100 most wanted fugitives, a group that purportedly included John Doe-1, the indictment said.
The defendants also allegedly targeted the family with a letter-writing campaign, the indictment stated, adding that one had said that “coming back and turning yourself in is the only way out.”
The Chinese government also filed a lawsuit against the father and son in a New York state court, claiming the father had stolen money from a Chinese employer and that his son illegally profited from the scheme.
“The victims in this case sought to flee an authoritarian government, leaving behind their lives and family for a better life here,” said Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director in charge of the New York field office of the FBI in the indictment.
“That same government sent agents to the United States to harass, threaten, and forcibly return them to the People’s Republic of China,” he added.
It is not the first case of this type.
In 2020, federal prosecutors arrested five people accused of trying to coerce Chinese citizens to go home. Court documents said those charged left a note on the door of one victim which read, “If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right.”
And in March of this year, U.S. Olympic figure skater Alysa Liu and her father, Arthur, a political dissident, were among those believed to have been targeted in a spying operation that the Justice Department alleges was ordered by the Chinese government.
At the Beijing Winter Olympics, Liu's father gave her permission to compete on the condition that she was chaperoned by two people at all times, guaranteed by the State Department and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, according to The Associated Press. She retired from professional ice skating a month later.