Weidong Yuan (R) and Guangyang Ah as seen in home surveillance footage taken in September 2018 outside the Long Island, N.Y., residence of John Doe's son. Photo courtesy of Justice Department
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors have charged seven people with conducting a multiyear operation of harassment and threats targeting a Chinese national and his family residing in the United States in order to force his repatriation to the Asian nation.
The eight-count indictment, unsealed Thursday in a Brooklyn, N.Y., federal court room, accuses the seven Chinese nationals with acting as agents of a foreign country and conspiracy to engage in interstate harassment and money laundering.
The lead defendant in the case was identified as Quanzhong Ah, a 55-year-old Queens, N.Y., businessman, who was arrested Thursday morning along with his 34-year-old daughter, Guangyang Ah.
The other defendants were identified as Chinese government officials Tian Peng, 38, Chenghua Chen, Chunde Ming, Xuexing Hou and Weidong Yuan, 55, who remain at large.
The federal prosecutors said the multiyear operation was part of China's international extralegal repatriation effort known as Operation Fox Hunt, which is run by China's Ministry of Security to locate alleged fugitives who have fled China.
As part of Operation Fox Hunt, Chinese officials have traveled to the United States without notifying the federal government while using local and Chinese assets they have recruited to surveil and harass targets. It is not uncommon for Chinese operatives to send China-based family members of targets to the United States to convey threats.
The United States has previously brought charges against those working to forcibly repatriate U.S. residents to China, including against Chinese prosecutor Tu Lan and Michael McMahon, a former New York City Police officer who was hired to investigate and surveil one of Beijing's targets.
The indictment unsealed Thursday identified China's target as John Doe who the Chinese government has listed among its top 100 fugitives.
Prosecutors said China has sought John Doe's voluntary repatriation since at least the beginning of 2002. The Chinese government has accused him of embezzling public funds as a general manager of a state-owned corporation.
The conspiracy to coerce John Doe's return to China was spearheaded by Peng, Chen, Ming and Hou with the use of Quanzhong Ah and Guangyang Ah as their U.S. assets who would meet directly with John Doe.
As part of the effort, the Chinese government repeatedly used members of John Doe's family who lived in China to threaten him, according to the charging document.
One instance included sending a family member to the United States to convey threats directly.
According to the charging document, in September of 2018, Yuan and a family member of John Doe flew with their wives to Chicago under the pretext of visiting the United States with a tour group.
As the group left Chicago for its second destination of Hawaii, Yuan and the family member traveled without their wives to New York, where they along with Quanzhong Ah and Guangyang Ah repeatedly attempted to meet with John Doe.
The court documents states that on Sept. 11, 2018, John Doe's son met Yuan and the unidentified family member who had traveled from China to the United States at a Queens restaurant. The meeting was recorded.
The family member told John Doe's son that he had "no choice" but to travel to the United States to locate them and that the Chinese government had paid for their trip and that they were being provided an $80 a day stipend, which would be reduced for every day they failed to contact them.
After joining the pair at the restaurant table, Yuan told John Doe's son that they would have to resolve the issue sooner or later and that his father's return to China "will make a difference for the family members you still have" in the Asian nation.
The charging document also accuses Quanzhong An, Guangyang Ah annd Yuan of attempting to visit the Long Island home of John Doe's son.
One instance in September of 2018 was captured by home surveillance cameras.
"Weidong Yuan and Guangyang An looked inside the windows of the residence and attempted to open the front door, before walking to the back of the residence where they took photographs of the residence and attempted to open the back door," the charging document states. "Guangyang An reached inside the residence's mailbox and examined John Doe-2's mail."
Over 2020, 2021 and this year, Quanzhong An repeatedly met with John Doe's son, the court document states.
Prosecutors said that during those recorded meetings Quanzhong An admitted that the Chinese government was putting pressure on John Doe and his son, including a lawsuit leveled against them by John Doe's former employer.
Quanzhong An is quoted in the court document as telling John Doe's son that the Chinese government "will definitely find new ways to bother you" and "it is definitely true that all of your relatives will be involved."
As recently as late last month, Quanzhong An is accused of pressing the son of John Doe to secure an agreement from his father to return to China in advance of the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress, which began on Sunday.
The court document also accuses Quanzhong An and his daughter of participating in a money laundering scheme involving millions of dollars as part of the harassment conspiracy.
If convicted of acting as an agent of China, Quanzhong An faces a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment. Quanzhong An and Guangyang Ah could face up to 20 years' imprisonment each for the money laundering conspiracy charges with the remaining charges carrying a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
"The victims in this case sought to flee an authoritarian government, leaving behind their lives and family, for a better life here," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael Driscoll said in a statement. "That same government sent agents to the United States to harass, threaten and forcibly return them to the People's Republic of China."