Mainland police have recovered more than US$10 billion (HK$77 billion) illegally converted into foreign exchange last year by fraudsters fearing a yuan devaluation. The figure was disclosed by a vice-minister of public security, Zhao Yongji, who broke the Government's silence on the flight of capital. Mr Zhao, speaking during a conference on the subject which ended in Beijing on Sunday, listed currency fraud as part of a catalogue of economic crimes. His comments on the issue, which the mainland media have previously considered too sensitive to mention, were reported in the Legal Daily. Mr Zhao said the US$10 billion was recovered during an unprecedented crackdown on economic crime in the last five months of last year. Unofficial estimates put the figure for the money which left the mainland during this period, or was converted and held in mainland accounts, at tens of billions of dollars. In response to the flight of capital, the Government imposed stricter rules on currency conversion and ordered foreign currency held abroad to be brought back. A large portion of the funds was hidden by converting the currency into foreign exchange illegally by using fake documents, mainly Customs forms purporting to show the purchase of imports or under-reporting the value of exports. Once converted into foreign currency, the money was held within China or abroad as a hedge against the feared devaluation. Mr Zhao said that in the first eight months of this year, police had registered 33,000 cases of economic crime, up 23.4 per cent on the same period last year and involving 84 billion yuan (HK$79 billion) - almost quadrupling last year's figure. He said there had been a sea of change in the nature of economic crimes in the 1990s from the 1980s, when few cases involved more than one million yuan. Sums of 10 million or 100 million yuan were now common. 'The cases are becoming more complex and solving them is becoming increasingly difficult. The economic crime situation is very serious and the kinds of crimes different to those in the past,' Mr Zhao said. Individuals used to be the main culprits, but now they were gangs and companies. Crimes no longer involved a city or province but crossed regional and international boundaries. An editorial in the People's Daily echoed Mr Zhao's comments yesterday, saying the surge in economic crime was linked to corruption and threatened the stability of the Government. 'Fighting such crimes is not only a vital economic task but also a serious political responsibility,' it said. The reports will strengthen the public's perception that corruption is rife throughout the Communist Party and the Government. Many senior officials are rumoured to have bought homes, kept bank accounts abroad and arranged foreign passports for their children as an insurance against the day when they fall from power. The Legal Daily also reported the most recent example of corruption by a city official. A death sentence, suspended for two years, was imposed on Zheng Rongfang, former vice-mayor of Enping city in Guangdong. From 1993, Zheng used HK$10 million in public money, which was kept in a bank account in Macau, to buy properties in Hong Kong and Macau, from which he made a profit of 18 million yuan.