According to the American authorities, the purpose of Operation Fox Hunt launched by the Chinese government was to identify, threaten, and force the return of Chinese dissidents to their homeland.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department arrested five people accused of conspiring to conduct an aggressive threats campaign on behalf of China to pressure political dissidents who fled to the United States to return home to face trial. Three others have been charged, but are currently in China.
Five of these, including an American private investigator, were arrested Wednesday in three different states.
The announcement is the latest blow to relations between the Trump administration and Chinese officials, who have engaged in retaliatory moves that have intensified in recent months with the outbreak of the coronavirus and the trade war.
The suspects are accused of waging an elaborate campaign that included hiring American private investigators to locate expatriates who had fled to the United States and then stalking, monitoring, and threatening them and their families.
In one case, officers arranged to send threatening messages on social media to the daughter of a former Chinese official and her friends, according to court documents. They also took the official’s father to the United States from China to push the son back home, the documents say.
China said the operation, which it calls Operation Fox Hunt was ordered by President Xi Jinping to root out corrupt officials who fled the country.
But according to US officials, the Chinese have refused to work through traditional legal channels.
Five of the suspects were arrested Wednesday in the United States, the Justice Department said. Three others, who law enforcement believes are in China, have been charged.
“With today’s charges, we have turned the P.R.C.’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head — the hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued”, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said during a press conference at the Department of Justice. “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.” He added, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The Justice Department has been investigating the Chinese campaign for at least the last few years of the Obama administration.