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No hiding place overseas for fugitive officials

By Zhang Yan and Xin Dingding | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-29 07:38

 No hiding place overseas for fugitive officials

An unidentified fugitive returns from Indonesia to China in September. The judicial authorities are intensifying efforts to extradite fugitives so they can stand trial. Xinhua

China's anti-graft authorities have gone on the offensive in the fight against corrupt individuals who flee the country to avoid arrest, as Zhang Yan and Xin Dingding report.

The first person on a list of China's 100 most-wanted fugitives has been arrested after 14 years on the run overseas, according to the body charged with rooting out corruption.

Dai Xuemin, former manager of a State-owned trust and investment company in Shanghai, was detained in Hefei, capital of Anhui province, several days ago after recently entering the country on a foreign passport, said a statement issued by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

The 57-year-old is now being held while further investigations are carried out. In August 2001, Dai fled the country and headed to the United States via South Korea after an arrest warrant was issued on charges of embezzling 11 million yuan ($1.8 million), the CCDI said.

Dai was named on a list of the 100 most-wanted corrupt officials that was published by Interpol on Wednesday. The 77 men and 23 women, most of whom are in the 40 to 60 age group, face corruption charges. The list, given to Interpol by the Chinese government, included the fugitives' photos, names, ID numbers and possible locations.

"Most, but not all, of the wanted people are corrupt officials, some have raised funds illegally, for example, but all 100 are accused of graft, including embezzlement, abuse of power, bribery and corruption," Fu Kui, director of the CCDI's International Cooperation Bureau, said.

Many of the fugitives traveled to the same destinations, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, to avoid punishment, he said.

The Ministry of Public Security said Interpol has also issued Red Notices, approximating to international arrest warrants, "requesting the relevant countries to assist in extraditing the fugitives back to face trial".

Gao Bo, deputy secretary-general of the China Anti-Corruption Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said a long-term lack of effective supervision allowed a large number of government officials to abuse their power and accept large bribes. However, many of them became uneasy and sought to transfer most of their ill-gotten assets overseas via illegal channels.

Zero tolerance

"Issuing such a list and asking Interpol to publish it shows that the government has adopted a 'zero tolerance' attitude toward capturing these corrupt officials, no matter where they are hiding," Gao said. "As long as the Chinese police can trace these people's footprints, they will be caught, irrespective of where they are."

Fu said that the move would help to "strengthen cooperation in law enforcement between China and relevant countries, and improve efficiency to extradite more corrupt officials and confiscate their ill-gotten funds".

In recent years, the US, Canada and Australia have become popular destinations for corrupt officials, who have transferred millions of yuan overseas through illegal money-laundering operations and underground banks.

The CCDI said the publication of the list and the issuance of the notices is part of Operation Sky Net, which started in early April and targets corrupt officials at large in foreign countries with the aim of confiscating misappropriated money and assets.

According to reports in Beijing News, a number of the suspects had made detailed preparations to flee the country, including Yang Xianghong, former Party chief of the Lucheng district of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.

In September 2008, the 53-year-old led a group of government officials on a business tour of several European countries, including France. During the trip, Wang complained that a long-standing lower-back problem had recurred, and missed many of the planned activities.

He never returned to China, according to the reports, which claimed that prior to her father's departure Wang's daughter had married a man from a Chinese-French background and moved to France.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, although many of the fugitives are still free, some have been arrested and charged with crimes such as leaving the country illegally and laundering money overseas.

"Chinese law enforcement authorities are negotiating with their foreign counterparts to extradite the fugitives so they can face trial," the ministry said.

Meanwhile, China Central Television reported that Yang Xiuzhu, former deputy director of the Zhejiang Provincial Construction Bureau, was listed as the No. 1 fugitive among the 100 most-wanted. Yang fled to the US in 2003, before moving on to Singapore and the Netherlands as she attempted to avoid arrest.

In 2005, Yang was detained in the Netherlands after she was discovered lying low in a cold, damp cellar in Rotterdam, according to the report. The judicial authorities in the Netherlands have initiated extradition proceedings to return Yang to China.

The CCDI's Fu said the commission would not place information about the fugitives in the public domain, but would share intelligence with the authorities in the relevant countries.

"The Interpol notices mean that people at home and abroad will have access to the information, and they may be able to give us valuable tip-offs, which will effectively reduce the number of places these corrupt officials can hide overseas," he said.

International cooperation

Red Notices, Interpol's highest-level international alerts, have been issued to 189 member countries, asking them to assist in the capture and extradition of fugitives who may be residing in their territories.

A search of Interpol's website on Monday showed that in the past few years the organization has issued at least 160 Red Notices for Chinese fugitives.

"Most of the 100 most-wanted are former officials accused of graft," said Huang Feng, law professor at Beijing Normal University, adding that most of the cases relate to allegations of corruption.

However, despite issuing the notices, Interpol won't have the power to enforce them, according to Feng. "If people are located, China will have to enter into further negotiations with the relevant countries regarding arrest and extradition. In addition, those countries will adhere to their laws when deciding whether to assist China in investigations, or the arrest or extradition of fugitives," he said.

Huang said that most of the 100 people on the list had been named by Interpol even before the Red Notices were issued: "A new list like this doesn't mean the relevant countries will immediately help us to capture and extradite the fugitives, but it can assist with investigations and locating suspects, but only within the scope of the countries' own laws."

Dai Peng, director of the Criminal Investigation College at the People's Public Security University of China, said the notices might spook the fugitives.

"When they hear about the Red Notices, the fugitives may attempt to escape to other countries and regions. The aim of issuing the notices is to request the assistance of all 189 member countries in capturing the fugitives, and then to help them play an active role in deterring such people from entering their countries," he said, adding that the extension of judicial cooperation with other interested parties will be crucial for success.

Fu said China will "enhance pragmatic judicial cooperation with the relevant countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, and use every resource to apprehend and repatriate fugitives to stand trial".

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