US charges seven Chinese nationals over forced repatriation campaign

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The United States charged seven Chinese nationals on Thursday for participating in an alleged campaign to force a US resident back to China as part of an “international extralegal repatriation” operation run by Beijing.

The Justice Department said the defendants were engaged in Beijing’s Operation Fox Hunt, which US authorities have said involves extra-judicial “repatriation squads” that clandestinely attempt to force expatriates to return to China.


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Beijing has defended the operation as part of an anti-corruption campaign and said its law enforcement agencies follow international laws when abroad.

The seven people charged on Thursday allegedly surveilled and harassed the family of an “elite” overseas Chinese national they called John Doe-1 as part of a forced repatriation campaign against him.

“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,” Justice Department attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.

“The United States will firmly counter such outrageous violations of national sovereignty and prosecute individuals who act as illegal agents of foreign states.”

Two of those charged -- lead defendant, Quanzhong An, 55, and his daughter Guangyang An, 34, -- were arrested Thursday, while the other five accused remain at large.

The Justice Department said Quanzhong An, described as a New York businessman, was Beijing’s key US-based liaison.

“Quanzhong An admitted that he was acting as an agent of the Provincial Commission to increase his standing in the PRC,” the Justice Department said, adding that he met with the targeted expatriate’s son several times to “cause the return of John Doe-1.”

The campaign also saw one of John Doe-1’s relatives sent from China to the US in 2018 to convey threats to his son “that were intended to coerce” his return.

Spanish-based rights group Safeguard Defenders released a report in January citing government data to estimate that almost 10,000 Chinese nationals had been forcibly returned since 2014.

Through two programs, Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net, those targeted were pressured to return to China against their will using a combination of non-judicial methods -- including kidnappings, harassment and intimidation, according to the report.

In July, the US charged nine people with “acting as and conspiring to act as unregistered agents” of China under Operation Fox Hunt.

In October, five people were arrested for targeting an unnamed Chinese person living in the US.

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