The U.S. Department of Justice has filed criminal charges against eight defendants, most of them Chinese nationals, for their roles in an unlawful campaign coercing Chinese living in the U.S. to return to China against their will.

Five people were arrested by the FBI Wednesday, while the other three are believed to be in China. The operation that led to the arrests was revealed by FBI director Christopher Wray. He said China's ongoing global and extralegal repatriation effort called "Operation Fox Hunt" seeks to harass, stalk, and coerce certain American residents of Chinese descent into returning to China.

The arrests culminated a multiyear investigation that began after some of the victims complained to the FBI about being intimidated into returning to China.

The criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn alleges the defendants participated in an "international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to the People's Republic of China."

"Today's charges reflect yet another example of China's ongoing and widespread lawless behavior, and our refusal to tolerate it," said Wray.

"Simply put: it's outrageous that China thinks it can come to our shores, conduct illegal operations, and bend people here in the United States to their will."

Wray said targets of Fox Hunt were given the stark choice of either returning to China promptly or committing suicide. He also said family members of the targeted Chinese in the U.S. and in Chin, were threatened and coerced.

"These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state," according to Wray. "Instead, it's more like something we'd expect from an organized criminal syndicate."

Wray said the FBI is proud to have this investigation culminate in criminal charges, which he said arte the first of their kind in the U.S. He said the criminal charges will help China understand that surveilling, stalking, harassing, and blackmailing American citizens and lawful permanent residents carries serious risks.

John Demers, the DOJ's assistant attorney general, said Operation Fox Hunt is just one of many ways in which China disregards the rule of law.

"We have turned the PRC's Operation Fox Hunt on its head," said Demerts. "The hunters became the hunted, the pursuers pursued."

"For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear: Stay out. Your behavior is not welcome here."

The Chinese Embassy in Washington has yet to comment on the arrests and the allegations by the DOJ and the FBI.