A Chinese national is charged in a criminal complaint, which was unsealed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York, with conspiring to act in the United States as an illegal agent of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
According to court documents, Sun Hoi Ying, aka Sun Haiying, 45, of the PRC, from at least February 2017 through February 2022, acted in the United States as an agent of the PRC government, without notifying the U.S. Attorney General as required by law.
“This case demonstrates, once again, the PRC’s disdain for the rule of law and its efforts to coerce and intimidate those it targets on our shores as part of its Operation Fox Hunt,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen. “The defendant allegedly traveled to the United States and enlisted others, including a sworn law enforcement officer, to spy on and blackmail his victims. Such conduct is both criminal and reprehensible.”
“The PRC government launched a campaign dubbed ‘Operation Fox Hunt,’ a global plot to repress dissent and to forcibly repatriate so-called ‘fugitives’ – including citizens living legally in the United States – through the use of unsanctioned, unilateral and illegal practices,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “We allege Mr. Sun, as part of that campaign, attempted to threaten and coerce a victim into bending to the PRC’s will, even using a co-conspirator who is a member of U.S. law enforcement to reinforce that the victim had no choice but to comply with the PRC government’s demands. Today’s charges reflect this office’s continued commitment, working hand in hand with our partners at the FBI, to combat transnational repression and bringing to justice those who perpetrate it.”
“The Chinese government takes advantage of our freedoms — freedoms they deny their own citizens — to advance their authoritarian regime, and calls uncomfortable truths about their behavior rumors and lies,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “There’s nothing false about seeing example after example of the Chinese government’s underhanded and illegal behavior here in the United States. I urge anyone to contact the FBI if you feel you’re a victim of the Chinese government’s illegal Fox Hunt activities.”
“As alleged, Sun Hoi Ying, acting at the direction of the PRC government, engaged in a range of activities designed to pressure individuals in the United States to return to the PRC to face charges brought by the Chinese government,” said Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office. “Our commitment to protecting the freedoms enjoyed by all United States residents is steadfast. Today's action is the latest example of our unwavering determination to combat transnational repression in all its forms.”
According to court documents, the FBI has been involved in an investigation of individuals who, working at the direction of the PRC government, have engaged in an international campaign, known alternatively as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet,” to pressure individuals located in the United States and elsewhere to return to the PRC to face charges or to otherwise reach financial settlements with the PRC government.
As alleged, from approximately October 2016 through May 2017, Sun conducted operations in the United States on behalf of the PRC government to pressure, threaten and collect personal information regarding victims of Operation Fox Hunt. Among other things, as part of his operations and at the direction of the PRC government, Sun hired private investigators in the United States to gather personal information on Operation Fox Hunt targets, labeled as “fugitives” by the PRC government and provided some of that information to the PRC government.
According to the complaint, Sun provided 35 names to a private investigator (P.I.-1) working at a U.S. company (Firm-1) of individuals described as PRC fugitives, including Victim-1, who is a U.S. citizen that previously lived in the PRC, worked at a PRC-owned company, and was subsequently accused by the PRC government of embezzlement. As alleged, P.I.-1 conducted surveillance at Victim-1’s home and provided a report to Firm-1 and Sun. By June 2018, the PRC government had publicly disseminated personal identifying information of Victim-1 – including case details, a photograph and home address – on PRC-based news media websites.
While Sun was collecting information about Victim-1 for the PRC government, Victim-1’s daughter (Victim-2), who is a U.S. citizen and was pregnant at the time, was held against her will in the PRC for approximately eight months. In or about October 2016, Victim-2, her spouse and her minor child attempted to leave the PRC to return to the United States. However, Victim-2 was told by PRC customs officials and a PRC prosecutor (Prosecutor-1) that she could not leave and was subject to an “exit ban.” While Victim-2’s spouse and minor child were able to return to the United States, Victim-2 was told that, since Victim-1 had committed a crime, the “exit ban” on Victim-2 was a consequence of Victim-1’s fugitive status. The PRC prosecutor further told Victim-2: (1) that she would not be permitted to leave the PRC until she helped cause Victim-1 to return to the PRC to resolve Victim-1’s criminal case; (2) that Victim-2 was not to discuss the “exit ban” with the U.S. government; and (3) that the U.S. Embassy was helpless to address Victim-2’s status in the PRC. When Victim-2 explained to Prosecutor-1 that she was pregnant and wished to deliver her baby in the United States, Prosecutor-1 told Victim-2 she would deliver her baby in the PRC if the conditions were not yet met for the “exit ban” to be lifted.
According to the complaint, on or about Dec. 1, 2019, Sun also sought out, located and met with an Operation Fox Hunt target (Victim-3), in New York City, in coordination with a co-conspirator who is a local U.S. law enforcement officer. During the meeting, Sun threatened and pressured the victim, including by threatening that the PRC government would take certain adverse and retaliatory actions if the victim did not comply with the demands of the PRC government.
Sun is charged with one count of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew J.C. Hellman and Kyle A. Wirshba for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with valuable assistance provided by Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
The FBI’s New York Field Office is investigating the case.
A complaint is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.