Sun Hoi Ying, 53, is alleged to have spied on at least 35 individuals in the United States and to have fed information from his efforts to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 2017 to 2022.
Sun’s activities were part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” a CCP initiative begun in 2014 to forcibly repatriate Chinese dissidents and other alleged fugitives back to mainland China, or else to coerce them into paying financial settlements to the regime, prosecutors said.
He relied on private investigation firms and a New York law enforcement officer to conduct his covert activities, according to the warrant for his arrest. At least one of his victims, a pregnant woman, was forcibly detained for eight months while visiting China.
“This case demonstrates, once again, the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] 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,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in a statement.
“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.”
Many of Sun’s victims were U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage who have been in the United States for years, according to court documents.
In one effort, Sun allegedly tracked down a victim who had been living in the United States since 2002, by enlisting help from the leader of an unnamed community organization in New York City, as well as that of an unnamed New York law enforcement officer.
Court documents outlined how, beginning in 2003, the CCP systematically detained and sued two former spouses and other family members of the victim based in China in order to coerce her to return to the country or otherwise enter a monetary settlement.
One former husband was found innocent of charges related to using CCP funds to purchase property, although his property was confiscated by the CCP anyway, the document said. The CCP also began an effort to forcibly seize the property of a second ex-husband.
The New York law enforcement officer is alleged to have identified themselves as such during multiple meetings with the victim and Sun, and reportedly described themselves as a go-between.
The officer also met with the victim privately and relayed all information about the meeting back to Sun so he could deliver it to his CCP handlers back in China, according to the court file.
The officer and community leader weren’t named as defendants in the case but were described as co-conspirators.
Targeting a Pregnant Woman
In another case, Sun targeted a pregnant woman in order to gain leverage on her father, both of whom were U.S. citizens.
Sun’s campaign against the family began with photographs and addresses of the victims being collected by private investigation firms. This information was then sent to the CCP, which distributed the information on lists of fugitives and their families, the court file said.
The daughter, then pregnant, traveled to China with her spouse and child in 2016.
When the family attempted to return to the United States, she was told by CCP authorities that she had been placed on an “exit ban” list as punishment for her father’s crime. Her child and spouse could leave China, they said, but she would not be allowed to leave until her father came back to China to face charges, the court document said.
CCP officers allegedly told her that she wasn’t to inform the U.S. government about the exit ban, and that the U.S. Embassy in China was helpless to do anything about her status.
When she told CCP officers that she was pregnant, they told her that the child would be born in China unless her father returned to face charges, according to the document.
She was allegedly held for eight months before the CCP made a deal with the United States to release her, provided she deliver official Chinese documents to her father.
The case against Sun is just the latest of several CCP espionage prosecutions.
In March, the DOJ unsealed charges against five other men in three separate cases, all of whom were accused of extending the CCP’s repressive reach to U.S. soil.
One of the cases involved a conspiracy to intimidate and physically assault a U.S. Army veteran running for Congress. Another involved the stalking and intimidation of an American Olympian and her father. Still another involved the harassment of an artist for his sculpture depicting CCP leader Xi Jinping as a giant coronavirus molecule. All of the victims were ethnic Chinese who had been critical of the CCP’s abuses.
The DOJ’s announcement of the cases followed shortly behind the Biden administration’s controversial decision to terminate the China Initiative, a Trump-era anti-espionage campaign designed to thwart CCP spying in the United States.
The program was accused by activist groups of being racist, but a DOJ internal review found no evidence to support that claim. Nevertheless, the decision was made to scrap the program to avoid what Olsen called a “harmful perception” of bias. Critics claimed that the termination of the program would make the nation appear weak.
The DOJ touted three of the cases brought forward as evidence that the post-China Initiative framework was working. Each of the cases brought forward in the last month began under the previous administration.
“This activity is antithetical to fundamental American values,” Olsen said of the CCP’s transnational repression. “We will not tolerate such repression here when it violates our laws. We will defend the rights of Americans and those who come to live, work and study in the United States.”
Sun is currently at large in mainland China, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.