China softens tactics in global hunt for corruption fugitives

by Reuters
Tuesday, 10 November 2015 10:42 GMT

* China changes tactics in global hunt for fugitives - Liu

* China brings home more than 600 corruption suspects

* Seventeen of top 100 returned

* Hopeful for extradition treaty with Britain

By Elizabeth Piper, Sarah Young and Paul Ingrassia

LONDON, Nov 10 (Reuters) - China has changed tactics in its global man-hunt for fugitives wanted at home for corruption, after complaints from countries that objected to Beijing's practice of sending investigators to track them down, a top Chinese anti-corruption official said.

Liu Jianchao, in charge of repatriating Chinese corruption suspects who flee abroad, said in an interview Beijing had deepened cooperation with foreign governments and no longer sent officials abroad without clearance from the host country to try to convince the suspects to return home.

China has brought home more than 600 officials this year in a campaign dubbed "Operation Fox Hunt", pursuing them abroad as part of a wider crackdown on deep-rooted graft which Liu called "an arduous task". Seventeen of the top 100 suspects on which China's Interpol office issued a red notice in April have been repatriated, he said.

"The Chinese authorities at different levels ... didn't really mean to make any harm to the country that they were visiting, but then we got these complaints, we realised there's room for improvement in doing this job," Liu told Reuters on Monday on a visit to Britain to seek better legal cooperation.

"So now we are talking to the authorities of the relevant countries to seek their assistance and their understanding and we tell them in explicit terms that China will ... comply with the legal procedures, with the rules of your country," he said, in an unusually frank admission of the challenges Beijing has faced in trying to repatriate economic fugitives.

"DAUNTING" TASK

Western diplomats in Beijing say their governments have been infuriated by China sending agents to their countries to try to convince suspects to return, and that if China wants their help it must use above-board, legal methods and local courts.

The United States in particular has warned China about Chinese agents it says were operating on U.S. soil to pressure fugitives to return.

Western nations have balked at signing extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about its judicial system. Rights groups say Chinese authorities use torture and that the death penalty is common in corruption cases.

President Xi Jinping has driven the corruption crackdown since taking over the leadership of the Communist Party in late 2012. Since then dozens of senior officials have been investigated or jailed.

The Chinese government has given periodic updates of its progress in bringing graft suspects back to China, in some cases announcing batches of several dozen officials being returned.

However, the fight has been hampered by China's difficulty in getting suspected corrupt officials and assets from overseas.

"The task remains daunting," said Liu, who is Vice Minister for the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention. He also heads the Department of International Cooperation within the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Among those still overseas is Yang Xiuzhu, a former senior construction official in eastern Zhejiang province charged with corruption, who has been taken into custody by immigration authorities in the United States but has applied for asylum.

Her brother, regional official Yang Jinjun, was repatriated to China in September, the first time Beijing succeeded in bringing back a suspect from the United States.

SMOOTH COOPERATION

Liu said he hoped London would sign an extradition treaty with Beijing after a visit by Xi last month.

"It's really in the interests of both China and Britain to have more smooth cooperation in the legal area."

He added that there were three people under Interpol's red notice - the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant - in Britain. One had been persuaded to return.

He did not say how many officials in total were being pursued abroad or the value of assets that had been recovered.

Liu dismissed concerns of political motivation in tracking the suspects, saying "any person who is corrupted is our enemy so we have to bring each and every one of them to justice and we will put them on trial for the crimes they've committed".

Xi has taken his anti-corruption battle into the personal lives of government and party officials, banning everything from golf to gluttony.

Liu said golf was an expensive game in China, sometimes costing more than $150 to play 18 holes at private clubs, a steep bill compared to the modest salaries most officials earn.

"It's not about a particular game. It's about the way government officials behave," he said.

(Editing by Jason Subler and Mark Bendeich)

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