PRC Prosecutor Allegedly Traveled to the United States, Directed Stalking of U.S. Residents, and Obstructed Criminal Investigation
the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Mahwah NJ, A federal grand jury in New York filed an indictment today charging nine defendants with acting and conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) without prior notification to the Attorney General, and engaging and conspiring to engage in interstate and international stalking. Two of the nine defendants are also charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
According to court documents, Tu Lan, 50, and Zhai Yongqiang, 46, both of China, are the latest two of nine charged in the superseding indictment. Co-defendants Hu Ji, 46 and Li Minjun, 65, both of China; Zhu Feng, 34, a Chinese national residing in Queens, New York; Michael McMahon, 53, of Mahwah, New Jersey; Zheng Congying, 24, of Brooklyn, New York; and Zhu Yong, aka Jason Zhu, 64, of Norwich, Connecticut, were previously charged in a related criminal complaint issued in October 2020 and a related indictment in May 2021. The name of the ninth defendant remains under seal.
According to court documents, the defendants allegedly acted at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted and extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” The superseding indictment also alleges that Tu Lan, a new defendant who was employed as a prosecutor with the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate, traveled to the United States, directed the harassment campaign and ordered a co-conspirator to destroy evidence to obstruct the criminal investigation.
“Law enforcement officials around the world act according to a professional code of conduct,” said Acting Attorney General Mark Lesko for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “They act to enforce the law, not to violate it in such an egregious manner. That aprosecutor and police officer not only directed and participated in a criminal scheme on U.S. soil, but then attempted to cover it up, is an affront to justice of the highest order.”
“As alleged, the defendants, acting as agents of the PRC, carried out an illegal and clandestine campaign to harass and threaten targeted U.S. residents in order to force them to return to the PRC,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis. “Unregistered, roving agents of a foreign power are not permitted to engage in secret surveillance of U.S. residents on American soil, and their illegal conduct will be met with the full force of U.S. law. To the extent the PRC seeks to repatriate its citizens to the PRC, its agents are required to register with the Attorney General of the United States, coordinate with U.S. officials, and adhere to U.S. laws and protocols.”
“As noted in the superseding indictment, the Chinese government sent operatives to America to harass, surveil, and coerce U.S. residents to return to China. These acts are undemocratic, authoritarian, and contrary to the rule of law,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler, for the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The FBI will continue to protect those who are victims of harassment and intimidation by the government of China, or any other government practicing these tactics.”
As alleged, in and around 2012 and 2014, the PRC government caused the International Criminal Police Organization, aka Interpol, an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices” for John Doe #1 and his wife, Jane Doe #1. According to the Red Notices, John Doe #1 was wanted by the PRC government for “embezzlement, abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes” which carried a maximum possible penalty of death under PRC law. Jane Doe #1 was wanted by the PRC government for “accepting bribes” which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment under PRC law.
As alleged, the nine defendants participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe #1 and his family, in order to force John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 to return to the PRC as part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” a PRC Ministry of Public Security initiative to locate and repatriate alleged Chinese “fugitives” who had fled to foreign countries, including the United States. Instead of operating with the approval and coordination of the U.S. government, PRC government officials carrying out Operation Fox Hunt traveled to the United States and directed non-official operatives in the United States to engage in violations of U.S. criminal law. Specifically, between approximately 2016 and 2019, PRC government officials, including defendant Tu Lan, the PRC prosecutor, and Hu Ji, a PRC police officer with the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, traveled to the United States and directed other defendants to engage in unsanctioned and illegal conduct on behalf of the PRC to coerce the targeted victims to return to the PRC.
As further alleged in the superseding indictment, a centerpiece of this criminal scheme was an April 2017 effort, directed by PRC officials Tu Lan and Hu Ji, to transport John Doe #1’s elderly father from the PRC to the United States to convey a threat to John Doe #1 that his family in the PRC would be harmed if he did not return to the PRC. At the direction of Tu Lan, Hu Ji and others, several defendants worked to investigate, surveil and locate John Doe #1 and his wife. Tu Lan then traveled to the United States along with John Doe #1’s father and a medical doctor, Li Minjun. While in the United States, Tu Lan directed several conspirators to surveil John Doe #1 and his family so the defendants would know where to bring John Doe #1’s father to deliver the demand that John Doe #1 return to the PRC. Afterwards, Tu Lan returned to the PRC, where she continued to supervise the operation with Hu Ji and other PRC officials, directed other U.S.-based conspirators to continue stalking John Doe #1 and then ordered the return of John Doe #1’s father to the PRC after their attempts to render John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 were unsuccessful.
Zhu Feng, Hu Ji and Zhu Yong worked with McMahon, a private investigator, to gather intelligence about and locate John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1. To evade detection and frustrate a criminal investigation of their conduct, Tu Lan allegedly directed one of the conspirators to “delete all the chat content” between the conspirators. Subsequently, between 2017 and 2019 other defendants continued to harass and stalk the victims at the direction of the PRC government.
For example, on or about Sept. 4, 2018, two defendants drove to the New Jersey residence of John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 and pounded on the front door. The two defendants attempted to force open the door to the residence, then left a note at the residence that stated “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 defendants are charged with acting as and conspiring to act as agents of the PRC, which carry maximum penalties of ten years and five years in prison respectively. The defendants are also charged with interstate stalking and conspiring to engage in interstate stalking, which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each charge. Defendants Tu and Zhu are separately charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each charge. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Craig R. Heeren, J. Matthew Haggans and Ellen H. Sise are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.