A look at Operation Fox Hunt – China’s covert anti-corruption campaign

A look at Operation Fox Hunt – China’s covert anti-corruption campaign
Source: Sarah Silbiger/Pool, Reuters
FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that “these are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead, it’s more like something we’d expect from an organized criminal syndicate.”

On October 28, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray shared a sinister message that had been delivered to the home of a New Jersey resident who China considers to be a fugitive of the law.

“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!”

Wray said the message came as part of a larger anti-corruption campaign led by the Chinese government that targets individuals suspected of crimes, dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt.”

Launched in 2014, the operation seeks to repatriate “corrupt” Chinese officials and businessmen so they can be prosecuted for their crimes.

Wray added that China has even gone so far as to arrest a target’s family members to use them as “leverage.”

History of “Operation Fox Hunt”

This covert global operation first made its appearance in June 2014 and has not been without its successes.

According to China’s Ministry of Public Security, in a mere six-month span in 2015, the program repatriated 627 people to China. Of the 627, the ministry added, 258 turned themselves in.

However, as China does not have extradition treaties with many Western nations, the efforts largely depend on the help of its international partners, namely the United States.

Liao Jinrong, the director-general of China’s Ministry of Public Security International Cooperation Department, told the state-run China Daily newspaper that the US was the “top destination for Chinese fugitives.”

Yet, despite current geopolitical tensions and the US’ current efforts to denounce the operation, the country once assisted China in its endeavor.

In 2016, the US extradited China’s “most wanted” economic fugitive, Yang Xiuzhu, after 13 years on the run.

At the time, China’s state-run press agency, Xinhua, said this “[spoke] volumes of the success of international collaboration on eradicating corruption.”

Now, the US believes that China is taking a different approach, moving to threats as a means of coercion and even allegedly kidnapping wanted fugitives.

Forced coercion

On October 28, the US government charged eight people over a three-year plot to intimidate a US resident into returning to China to face criminal charges.

According to a statement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the defendants were charged with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of China, six of whom face additional charges of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking.

The parties are accused of participating in an “international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to the PRC” (People’s Republic of China).

The statement went on to call the efforts “part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt.’”

The group, which included a private investigator, allegedly left threatening notes and even flew the victim’s elderly father from China to compel the victim.

According to the statement, the defendants later conducted surveillance of the victim’s adult daughter and sent threatening messages on social media as part of the campaign.

The defendants include one naturalized US citizen, Hongru Jin, and three Chinese citizens residing in the US – Zhu Yong, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying.

One of the three defendants, 45-year-old Hu Ji, is believed to work as a police officer in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau. Another, 64-year-old doctor, Li Minjun, allegedly traveled alongside the victim’s elderly father in April 2017.

According to the criminal complaint, the New Jersey resident is accused by the Chinese government of “embezzlement, abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes."

Still, many are surprised by the charges, which, according to Wray, are the “first of their kind.”

Wray stated that “these are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead, it’s more like something we’d expect from an organized criminal syndicate.”

Ryan Mauro, National Security Expert for the Clarion Project, told TMS, “For the regime, persecuting dissidents in America is a matter of survival,” adding that “One of the Communist regime’s biggest fears is its democratic opposition — both within China and outside of China — becoming organized enough to mount a popular challenge.”

But Beijing remains firm that their officials “conduct foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international law, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty.”

At a press conference on October 29, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “The United States ignores the basic facts and uses ulterior motives to smear China’s work in pursuit of escaped and stolen goods. China firmly opposes this. We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes.”

Nevertheless, it remains clear that the US is standing firm in its decision to condemn China’s operation.

Wray ended his remarks with a message to the American people: “If you believe the Chinese government is targeting you—that you’re a potential Fox Hunt victim—please reach out to your local FBI field office.”

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