(CNSNews.com) – The Department of Justice on Monday announced charges against 13 Chinese nationals, including intelligence agents, accused of criminal activity in the U.S. linked in part to President Xi Jinping’s relentless “anti-corruption” drive.
One case involves alleged attempts to coerce a Chinese national in the U.S. to return to China; another concerns alleged efforts to undermine the prosecution in federal court of a “global telecommunications company” based in China; and a third relates to an alleged campaign to recruit new agents in academia and law enforcement to work for the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
“Ten of the 13 charged individuals we’re discussing today are Chinese intelligence officers and Chinese government officials,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told a press briefing. “They’re charged in three different cases that might seem at first glance, to be about unrelated issues.”
“However – and this is something that I’ve been talking about for years now – each of these cases lays bare the Chinese government’s flagrant violation of international laws as they work to project their authoritarian view around the world, including within our own borders.”
‘Turning yourself in is the only way out’
Seven defendants are charged in connection with a scheme involving surveillance and harassment in a bid to coerce a U.S. resident to return to China, as part of Xi’s extralegal repatriation campaign known as “Operation Fox Hunt.”
Two of the seven were arrested in New York last week; the others remain in China.
According to the indictment, defendants worked at the behest of China’s “Commission for Discipline Inspection” to coerce a U.S.-based man (“John Doe-1”) to return to China to face embezzlement charges.
“[C]oming back and turning yourself in is the only way out,” one of the defendants allegedly warned John-Doe-1, adding that “avoidance and wishful thinking will only result in severe legal punishments.”
Another warned him that if he did not return home, “all of your relatives will be involved.”
“Operation Fox Hunt” was launched soon after Xi took power in 2012, and has been credited by Beijing with repatriating hundreds of fugitives. Critics say that while some of those hounded to return may be wanted on corruption or related charges, many are targeted for other reasons.
“China describes Fox Hunt as some kind of international anti-corruption campaign – it is not,” Wray said in a 2020 speech. “Instead, Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid by General Secretary Xi to target Chinese nationals whom he sees as threats and who live outside China, across the world.”
“We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations.”
Wray told a Hudson Institute audience that sometimes “shocking” tactics were used; in one case a target was advised to “return to China promptly, or commit suicide.”
‘Tilting the playing field’
In a separate case, two Chinese intelligence officers are accused of offering bribes to a person they thought was an insider in the federal criminal case being brought against a “global telecommunications company” – reportedly the Chinese tech giant Huawei.
In return for bribes including $41,000 in Bitcoin, they wanted the person to steal confidential documents including the prosecution’s evidence, witness list, and trial strategy – with the aim of undermining the U.S. government’s case.
Unbeknown to the defendants, the person they were suborning was working as a double agent on behalf of the FBI.
“The defendants’ desperate efforts to sabotage this prosecution expose the PRC government’s commitment to tilting the playing field in favor of Chinese corporations abroad,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at the briefing.
She added that the case “demonstrates once again why such companies – especially in the telecommunications industry – shouldn’t be trusted to securely handle our sensitive personal data and communications.”
‘They’re going to keep encountering the FBI’
The third case involves four Chinese nationals, three of them intelligence officers, who in a decade-long campaign allegedly used a fake think tank to try to recruit university professors and a former law enforcement official to act as agents for the PRC, with requests to provide information, equipment, and assistance “in ways that would further China’s intelligence objectives,” the DOJ said.
Charges facing defendants in the three cases include attempting to obstruct a criminal prosecution, money laundering, conspiracy to act in the U.S. as agents of a foreign government without prior notification, and conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.
Asked about the timing of the announcement, just after the ending of 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and its endorsement of a third term for Xi, Wray said, “we bring cases when they are ready.”
“As far as what signal they send, if the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, continues to violate our laws, they’re going to keep encountering the FBI.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the charges announced by the DOJ but more broadly outlined the administration’s view that the U.S.-China relationship includes cooperative, competitive, and adversarial elements.
“Without speaking to any details that DOJ may have made public today, this certainly would seem to be in the category of adversarial elements of this relationship,” he said.
After the State Department in 2020 shut down China’s consulate in Houston a DOJ official briefing on background told reporters that the PRC has used consulates as operational bases for its “Operation Fox Hunt” teams.
“These are teams of agents sent from China here to coerce economic fugitives – meaning political rivals of President Xi, the Communist Party critics, and refugees – coercing them, that is, to return to the PRC,” the official said. “Consulates enabled the activities of those teams.”
At the just-finished CCP Congress, the topic of corruption featured prominently. A senior official from the “Commission for Discipline Inspection” announced that over the past decade, 4.648 million cases of corruption had been filed and 4.573 million people had been punished.
Xi told the meeting that “as long as the breeding grounds and conditions for corruption still exist, we must keep sounding the bugle and never rest, not even for a minute, in our fight against corruption.”