Three convicted of attempting to force US citizens to go to China

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A retired New York police officer and two Chinese nationals were convicted Tuesday for their roles in a scheme to forcibly repatriate US residents to China known as “Operation Fox Hunt.”

Michael McMahon, 55, Zhu Yong, 66, and Zheng Congying, 27, were found guilty by a federal jury after a three-week trial, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

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McMahon, a retired police sergeant turned private investigator, was convicted of acting as an illegal agent of the Chinese government, conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking.

Zhu, of Queens, was convicted of the same charges while Zheng Congying, of Brooklyn, was convicted of conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking.

McMahon and Zhu, at the direction of Chinese officials, waged a campaign to “harass, stalk, and coerce” residents of the United States to return to China, the US Attorney’s Office said.

The scheme was part of a Chinese “global and extralegal repatriation effort known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt,’” it said.

“We hope this verdict serves as a message to other operatives in the United States working right now at the behest of the People’s Republic of China in its effort to silence those who speak out against it,” FBI special agent James Dennehy said.

McMahon faces up to 20 years in prison, Zhu faces up to 25 years in prison, and Zheng faces up to 10 years in prison.

The US government has prosecuted several Chinese nationals in its investigation into the surveillance and harassment of people living in the United States in recent years.

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

But Washington has accused the operation of targeting dissidents and opponents of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

According to prosecutors, Chinese officials brought the elderly father of a person targeted for repatriation to the United States from China in an attempt to coerce his return.

Other conspirators allegedly harassed the victim’s daughter and left threatening notes that referenced harm to family members.

According to a report by Spanish-based rights group Safeguard Defenders, nearly 10,000 Chinese nationals worldwide have 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.

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