US jury to weigh case prosecutors call part of China’s ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ repatriation effort

Jun 14, 2023, 4:01 PM

FILE - Zhu Yong, right, tries to shield himself from photographers as he leaves Brooklyn Federal co...

FILE - Zhu Yong, right, tries to shield himself from photographers as he leaves Brooklyn Federal court, May 31, 2023, in New York. Jurors are expected to start deliberating Thursday, June 15, in the criminal trial of three men, including Zhu, accused of trying to scare a former Chinese official into returning to his homeland, a scheme that U.S. prosecutors say was orchestrated by Beijing. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors are expected to start deliberating Thursday in the criminal trial of three men accused of trying to scare a former Chinese official into returning to his homeland, a scheme that U.S. prosecutors say was orchestrated by Beijing.

American private investigator Michael McMahon and Zheng Congying and Zhu Yong, two Chinese nationals living in the U.S., face charges including acting as illegal foreign agents, stalking and conspiracy. Prosecutors say the scheme reflects China’s nearly decade-old “Operation Fox Hunt,” an initiative aimed at repatriating people deemed fugitives from justice.

According to prosecutors, Zhu, Zheng and McMahon carried out different parts of a yearslong and increasingly intrusive effort to induce former Wuhan city official Xu Jin to return to his homeland, where he and wife Liu Fang are wanted on corruption allegations that the two deny.

“Xu Jin and Liu Fang were harassed and stalked for years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Arfa said in a closing argument Wednesday. She maintained that “the overarching scheme” was “directed by the Chinese government.”

China has denied threatening people to coerce them to return. The U.S. and China don’t have an extradition treaty, meaning authorities can’t order people to be sent back.

Zhu, a retiree who also goes by Jason Zhu and Yong Zhu, helped hire McMahon to find Xu and pass along information for the search. McMahon, a private investigator and retired New York City police sergeant, tailed the ex-official, rooted out his New Jersey home address and scoured government databases for information on his family.

Zheng knocked on Xu’s door, circled the home to peer inside and taped up a note telling Xu to submit to imprisonment in China in order to assure the well-being of his wife and children. Defense lawyer Paul Goldberger said Zheng later made a remorseful attempt to retrieve the missive; prosecutors suggest he just checked to see whether it had been received.

The men didn’t testify, but their lawyers said the three believed they were aiding a private company or individuals, not the Chinese government.

“They are also victims. They are used,” said Zhu’s lawyer, Kevin Tung, told the Brooklyn federal court jury during Wednesday’s summations. “They are used by a very sophisticated government.”

McMahon’s lawyer, Lawrence Lustberg, said the sleuth had been “deceived” by Chinese contacts who referred to a “company” as the ultimate client for the work.

Besides the men on trial, eight other people also have been indicted in the case. Three have pleaded guilty; five are believed to be in China.

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US jury to weigh case prosecutors call part of China’s ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ repatriation effort