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China seeks US co-op on fugitives

By Zhang Yan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-01-28 01:42

The Ministry of Public Security is working to set up an annual high-level meeting with US judicial officials in a bid to catch and return more Chinese fugitives.

"We're negotiating with the US Department of Homeland Security and will try to arrange the first summit this year," said Wang Liqiang, a senior official in the ministry's international cooperation bureau.

The meeting is expected to bring together the minister of public security and senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with their US counterparts to discuss cooperation on intelligence, operations, suspect repatriations and the recovery of stolen assets.

An annual roundtable has already been held between the international cooperation bureau, the Foreign Affairs Ministry's legal treaty department and several US agencies, including the Department of Justice.

"This is far from enough, and we urgently need a senior-level platform that can help law enforcement in North America better understand Chinese law and legal procedures, and assist us in fugitive repatriation and asset recovery," Wang said.

With the aim of boosting cooperation, China has been sending police liaison officers abroad since 1998. Today, the country has 80 officers stationed at 24 Chinese embassies in 23 countries and regions, including the US, Canada, Russia, France and Japan.

"Police liaison officers work on the front line and serve as the best bridge between Chinese judicial bodies and foreign counterparts," said Liao Jinrong, who is also with the international cooperation bureau.

However, Wang Zhigang, who held such a post in the US from 2004 to 2008, said legal differences, as well as complex and lengthy procedures, remain the biggest hurdles to finding and returning Chinese fugitives from North America.

During his time, he said more than 200 economic fugitives were at large in the US and he was one of only three officers charged with bringing them back.

"It usually took three to five years to repatriate an economic crime fugitive after constant communication with US judicial authorities," he said. "US law enforcement had no knowledge of our legal system."

Chinese liaison officers do not have judicial powers, so they must only rely on local police to investigate and obtain evidence.

"First, we had to submit detailed case files, including warrants issued by Interpol, to the FBI and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and request their assistance," Wang Zhigang said.

However, they did not further investigate the alleged crimes, he explained. "Only if the fugitives were suspected of illegal immigration or money laundering, and after grasping solid evidence, would US police consider detaining and charging them under local law."

Meanwhile, fugitives often appealed to higher courts and hired attorneys to delay the hearing, all of which slowed the repatriation process, he said.

Pursuing fugitives is only part of a liaison officer's work. Wang said he paid more attention to combating cross-border crime targeting overseas Chinese, such as telecom fraud, smuggling of drugs or firearms, and human trafficking.

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