Three convicted in US plot to force people to go to China

Ex-NYPD officer, two others, worked at behest of Beijing in repatriation effort ‘Operation Fox Hunt’, authorities said.

operation fox
Michael McMahon, a retired NYPD sergeant working as a private investigator, was convicted on charges related to a global repatriation campaign by Chinese law enforcement known as 'Operation Fox Hunt' [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

A retired New York Police Department (NYPD) sergeant and two other men have been convicted for their roles in a scheme to forcibly repatriate US residents to China, according to authorities.

Retired sergeant Michael McMahon, 55, and Queens resident Zhu Yong, 66, were convicted on Tuesday by a Brooklyn jury of acting as illegal agents of the Chinese government, conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking.

The men, along with Zheng Congying, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking, were part of “Operation Fox Hunt”, what US authorities have called China’s “global and extralegal repatriation effort” that targets dissidents and opponents of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Beijing has said the effort is part of an anti-corruption campaign and has maintained its law enforcement agencies follow international laws.

According to a report by Spanish-based rights group Safeguard Defenders, nearly 10,000 Chinese nationals worldwide have been forcibly returned since 2014.

Prosecutors said McMahon and Zhu waged a campaign to “harass, stalk, and coerce” residents of the US to return to China.

In a statement, Breon Peace, United States attorney for the eastern district of New York, said McMahon and Zhu “knowingly acted at the direction of a hostile foreign state”.

“It is particularly troubling that defendant Michael McMahon, a former sergeant in the New York City Police Department, engaged in surveillance, harassment, and stalking on behalf of a foreign power for money,” Peace said in a statement.

“We will remain steadfast in exposing and undermining efforts by the Chinese government to reach across our border and perpetrate transnational repression schemes targeting victims in the United States in violation of our laws,” he said.

Prosecutors said that Zhu had hired McMahon, who was working as a private detective, to surveil a New Jersey resident wanted by Beijing from 2016 to 2019. McMahon provided information on the wanted man, his wife and daughter, incuding his previously unknown US address to Chinese operatives.

The operation was supervised by several Chinese officials, including two who transported the wanted man’s elderly father from China to the US in an attempt to convince him to return to China in 2017.

Meanwhile, Zheng, in September 2018, drove to the New Jersey residence of the man and his wife. After pounding on the front door and attempting to force it open, prosecutors said Zheng and a co-conspirator left a note that 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!”

McMahon, who faces up to 20 years in prison, had argued during the trial that he did not know he was working for China. Three other defendants had previously pleaded guilty in the case.

The Chinese embassy in Washington has said the defendants were not Chinese law enforcement. It has called the charges slanderous or based on rumour, while calling efforts to repatriate fugitives a just cause.

Separately in April, US authorities arrested two men they accused of operating a “secret police station” in New York City on behalf of the Chinese government. They were accused of using the post to locate Chinese dissidents living in the US.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies