WASHINGTON — The Justice Department charged eight people Wednesday with conspiring to work on behalf of the Chinese government to harass, stalk and intimidate Chinese citizens into returning to their home country.
Five were arrested by the FBI on Wednesday, while the other three are believed to be in China, John Demers, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security division, said during a virtual press conference.
According to the complaint unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn, the defendants participated in an “international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to the People’s Republic of China.”
The international campaign, dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt,” is part of the Chinese government’s global campaign aimed at reducing the country’s diaspora, officials said.
“Operation Fox Hunt is just one of many ways in which China disregards the rule of law,” Demers said.
“We have turned the PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head. The hunters became the hunted, the pursuers pursued,” Demers said, adding that the U.S. response was unambiguous.
“For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear: Stay out. Your behavior is not welcome here,” Demers said.
Alongside Demers, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “The FBI is proud to have this investigation culminate in criminal charges, the first of their kind, charges that will help China understand that surveilling, stalking, harassing and blackmailing our citizens and lawful permanent residents carries serious risks,” Wray said.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the Chinese government warned Washington it may detain Americans in China in response to the Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Beijing’s warnings followed a series of arrests earlier this year of Chinese scientists conducting research at American universities. The Justice Department charged them with concealing from U.S. immigration authorities their active duty statuses with the People’s Liberation Army.