China Blasts US Charges Against Agents Seeking Man's Return

BEIJING (AP) -- China on Thursday accused the U.S. of seeking to smear Beijing's efforts to pursue fugitives, a day after the Justice Department charged eight people with seeking to coerce a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China was engaged in a “just cause to fight transnational crime and pursue fugitives and stolen goods internationally."

“The U.S., out of ulterior motives, ignored the basic facts and discredited China's efforts," Wang told reporters at a daily briefing. The U.S. should “bear international responsibilities and avoid being a haven for criminals," Wang said, adding that China's agents abroad followed local laws and protected the “legitimate rights and interests of suspects."

China has for years sought to induce white collar criminals who have fled abroad — particularly to the United States — to return under a program called “Fox Hunt.” Because China has no extradition treaty with the U.S., the decision to return home must technically be voluntary, although U.S. officials say in practice such operations often rely on threats, intimidation and bullying, often targeting dissidents and political opponents.

Five of the eight charged, including an American private investigator, were arrested Wednesday. The other three are believed to be in China. All eight were charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents for China in a case filed in federal court in Brooklyn.

“Without coordination with our government, China's repatriation squads enter the sovereign territory of 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, the Justice Department's top national security official, said at a news conference announcing the charges.

In the case announced Wednesday, prosecutors said the defendants over a period of several years harassed the family of a man who had been a city government official in China before arriving in the U.S. 10 years ago.

The Justice Department said the defendants broke the law by failing to notify the U.S. that they were acting as agents of the Chinese government. Several are also charged with conspiracy to commit international and interstate stalking.