NEW YORK (AP) — Judges are expected to start deliberating Thursday in the criminal trial of three accusing of trying to scare a former Chinese official into returning to his homeland, a scheme that US prosecutors say was orchestrated by Beijing.
American private investigators Michael McMahon and Zheng Congying and Zhu Yong, two Chinese nationals living in the US, 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 yearlong 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 US 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 US 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 house to peer inside and taped up a note telling Xu to submit to imprisonment in China in order to ensure 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 have also been indicated in the case. Three have pleaded guilty; five are believed to be in China.