Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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US trial opens over alleged forced repatriation of Chinese abroad

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES — America’s first federal trial over China’s alleged attempts to forcibly repatriate its citizens under a campaign known as “Operation Fox Hunt” got underway in New York on Wednesday.

Officially, the targets for forced or coerced repatriation are Chinese nationals wanted by China’s judicial system for alleged corruption. But Washington has accused the operation of targeting dissidents and opponents of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Three defendants went on trial in Brooklyn accused of coercing US residents into returning to China where they were wanted for alleged crimes.

Michael McMahon — a retired New York police officer working as a private investigator — Yong Zhu of Queens, and Congying Zhen of Brooklyn were charged in 2020.

If convicted of the four counts, which include acting as unlawful Chinese agents and interstate stalking, the defendants face up to ten 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.

The trial, which is estimated to last two to three weeks, started Wednesday with opening arguments.

The US Justice Department says McMahon was hired to investigate and surveil the victims.

He allegedly helped carry out an international operation whereby Chinese officials brought the elderly father of one victim from China to the United States in an attempt to coerce his return.

When McMahon’s part of the scheme failed to sufficiently coerce the victim to go back to China, other conspirators allegedly harassed the victim’s daughter and left threatening notes that referenced harm to family members, prosecutors say.

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

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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