DOJ Accuses China Of Sending ‘Repatriation Squads’ To US
By Pete Brush
Law360, New York (October 28, 2020, 2:33 PM EDT) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrests of five men Wednesday, accusing them of assisting China in a campaign to intimidate enemies in a bust described as a first-of-its-kind sweep to stop alleged Chinese “repatriation squads” from operating in America.
Arrested were Hongru Jin, 30, of Queens, New York; Zhu Yong, 64, also of Queens; Michael McMahon, 53, of New Jersey; Rong Jing, 38, of California; and Zheng Congying, 24, of Brooklyn, New York. Three others charged in a complaint, Zhu Feng, Hu Ji and Li Minjun, are at large, Brooklyn Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme and Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said at a press conference.
“This is the first case of its kind,” DuCharme said, calling the alleged conduct “unilateral” and “disturbing.”
Hongru was described by DuCharme as a naturalized U.S. citizen from China. McMahon is a licensed private investigator and U.S. citizen. The three others arrested Wednesday are citizens of China who are legal residents in the U.S., DuCharme said.
DuCharme and Demers, along with FBI Director Christopher Wray, put blame for the alleged brazen conduct at the feet of China’s communist party and its leader Xi Jinping. But they did not answer a question posed by a reporter who wanted to know if Xi was directly involved.
The defendants and likely others engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk and coerce U.S. residents, whose names are being protected, to return them to China as part of a repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt,” they said.
“Our investigation continues,” DuCharme said.
Demers described the defendants as members of a Chinese team bringing wanted individuals back to China. Demers called such alleged teams “repatriation squads”
The defendants participated in a campaign to threaten and harass John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to China in an effort that also was known as “Operation Skynet,” according to a complaint unsealed in Brooklyn federal court.
Rather than rely upon proper law enforcement cooperation, the defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine and illegal conduct from 2016 until 2019, according to the complaint.
The defendants are accused of bringing John Doe-1’s elderly father from China to New Jersey, against the father’s will, to attempt to coerce John Doe-1 to return to China, according to a DOJ press release. McMahon is accused of assisting China in locating and watching John Doe-1 and his wife.
Rong and others targeted John Doe-1’s adult daughter for surveillance and online harassment in 2017 and 2018, while Zheng in 2018 allegedly affixed a threatening note to the door of the John Doe-1’s residence stating, “If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right.”
Targets of the alleged hostage-taking campaign also were encouraged to kill themselves if they chose not to return to China, according to statements made at the press conference.
Zhu Yong, Hongru and McMahon appeared before Brooklyn U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo, and each were to be released on bond.
Rong and Zheng were arrested in the Central District of California. Information about their appearances was not available Wednesday evening.
Also Wednesday, Baimadajie Angwang, a New York City police officer accused of spying on the activities of Tibetans and Chinese citizens living in the U.S., pled not guilty at an arraignment conducted by video by Brooklyn U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.
Angwang, 33, is being held pending trial in a Brooklyn federal detention center. Through his lawyer he denied charges of acting as an agent for China, fraud and making false statements. In an email to Law360, Angwang’s lawyer, John Carman, called the not guilty plea “a small step forward in our quest to prove the innocence of this Marine Corp. veteran.”
Requests for comment made to the government of China via its embassy in Washington, D.C., were not returned.
Zhu Yong is represented by Royce Russell. Hongru is represented by Kenneth Montgomery. McMahon is represented by Brian Neary of the Law Offices of Brian J. Neary.
Angwang is represented by John Carman.
Counsel information for Rong and Zheng was not available.
The government is represented in the Angwang case by Michael T. Keilty and Matthew Haggans of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and by Scott A. Claffee of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division. In the charges announced Wednesday the government is represented by Haggans and Craig R. Heeren of the Eastern District and by Claffee.
The cases are USA v. Feng et al., case number 1:20-mj-01025, and USA v. Angwang, case number 1:20-cr-00442, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
–Editing by Gemma Horowitz.
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