On Monday, new information revealed that a retired New York Police Department (NYPD) sergeant and other American citizens were found guilty of acting as agents for the Peoples’s Republic of China (PRC) to harass and intimidate other United States citizens last month.
According to reports, the defendants were convicted of multiple charges, including conspiracy to act in the US as illegal agents of the PRC and engaging in interstate stalking and harassment.
The retired NYPD sergeant, Michael McMahon, who now works as a private eye, and Zhu Yong or “Jason Zhu” were convicted on several charges, including conspiracy to commit interstate stalking, which stems from their participation in “Operation Fox Hunt.”
According to officials, Operation Fox Hunt was a 2014 global campaign directed by Chinese Communist leader Xi Jinping to help the Chinese government locate and return fugitives or wanted individuals to Beijing. The program has an exit ban policy against dissidents, political activists, and family members.
“Operation Fox Hunt is a CCP campaign to repatriate ‘fugitives’ abroad by any means possible, whether that’s holding their family members hostage in China, hiring local thugs to harass and intimidate them into ‘voluntarily’ returning to China, or as has occurred in some countries, kidnapping them and dragging them back to China,” explained Michael Cunningham, a research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.
Cunningham explained that when these unsanctioned operations occur on American soil, they “not only violate the constitutional rights of their victims, but they also violate our nation’s sovereignty.”
“The verdict confirms that defendants McMahon and Zhu knowingly acted at the direction of a hostile foreign state to harass, intimidate and attempt to cause the involuntary return of a resident of the New York metropolitan area to the People’s Republic of China, and that defendant Zheng harassed and intimidated that same person and his family,” US Attorney Breon Peace’s Eastern District of New York Office said in a press release.
Speaking to The Foreign Desk about the recent case, Cunnigham said that the verdicts are “a much-needed victory for America’s justice system, which is essentially playing whack-a-mole in its efforts to push back against these illegal operations by our main foreign adversary. But the impact on Operation Fox Hunt will be quite small.”
Peace noted that McMahon faces up to 20 years of prison at sentencing while Zhu faces 25 and Zheng,10.
Local media outlets report that McMahon said he did not realize he was working for the PRC and was following orders in his employment by Zhu as a private investigator.
Speaking to ABC 7, McMahon said he was “disappointed” in the US criminal justice system.
During the trial, McMahon said he was employed for surveillance and told the subject was suspected of embezzling money from a Chinese construction firm.
The defendant said he informed the police that he was engaging in surveillance. McMahon’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said that an appeal is likely and that “there are a lot of good arguments for why this verdict is unjust.”
“This is just one of many thousands of Fox Hunt operations, most of which are never known. Furthermore, the ringleaders of this operation remain safe and sound in China, where they most likely continue to direct Fox Hunt operations remotely,” he added.
Cunnigham says that the US government “needs to make opposing Operation Fox Hunt a much bigger priority than it currently is. Until Beijing realizes that the diplomatic and economic costs of violating other countries’ sovereignty are greater than the benefits it gets from pursuing these individuals through unsanctioned operations, these operations will continue with impunity in our country,” he added.