NEW YORK -- The Justice Department has charged eight people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing to return to China to face charges, officials said.
Five of the eight were arrested Wednesday, accused of participating in a covert operation that officials say was built on intimidation, bullying and "very disturbing" tactics aimed at pressuring targets sought by Beijing. The other three are believed to be in China.
The defendants are accused of participating in a Chinese government operation known as "Fox Hunt" that was ostensibly created to help Beijing locate fugitives abroad for legitimate purposes, but that U.S. officials say in practice has been used to go after dissidents and political opponents.
"Without coordination with our government, China's repatriation squads enter the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China, where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said at a news conference announcing the charges.
In this case, prosecutors said, the defendants harassed the family of man they did not identify who had been a city government official in China before arriving in the U.S. in 2010. Officials would not say why the man or his family was targeted, but authorities said the campaign to get him to return to China included surveillance and online harassment of the man's adult daughter, as a well as a threatening note left on his front door.
The note, written in simplified Chinese characters, said: "If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That's the end of this matter!"
There was no immediate response to an email seeking comment from the Chinese embassy in Washington.
The arrests are among a series of recent actions the Trump administration has taken against China, a country President Donald Trump regards as a prime adversary.
In July, for instance, the Justice Department charged hackers working with the Chinese government with targeting firms developing vaccines for the coronavirus and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world.
"China is violating laws and norms left and right," FBI Director Chris Wray said Wednesday.