US reluctant to extradite corrupt officials, Chinese foreign ministry claims

Operation to track down corrupt officials overseas hampered by lack of extradition treaties with nations like the US and Canada

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2014, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 4:22pm

Investigators’ efforts to catch corrupt officials who have fled overseas are being hampered by Western countries’ reluctance to sign extradition treaties with China, a foreign ministry official said on Wednesday.

Xu Hong, director general of the ministry’s Department of Treaty and Law, said many corrupt officials had fled to countries such as the United States and Canada, but few had been returned to face trial because of the lack of extradition agreements.

The legal authorities had been forced to consider alternatives, such as using immigration laws in foreign countries to have fugitives deported as illegal immigrants.

They have also looked at whether civil legal action could be taken to sue former officials living overseas, or pressing courts abroad to start criminal proceedings, he said.

“We have actually talked to the United States, saying that in view of the increasing exchanges and cooperation between China and the US, should we consider signing an extradition treaty?” Xu said. “However, it looks as though the US is not ready to do that yet.”

The mainland has been intensifying its efforts to bring to justice corrupt former officials who have fled abroad as part of Beijing’s massive anti-corruption campaign. Mainland media has criticised Western countries, saying they are providing safe havens for corrupt cadres.

Nations including the US and some countries in the European Union have not signed extradition treaties with China, citing concerns about the death penalty and fears that suspects will not get a fair trial.

“Fox Hunt”, an operation launched in July to track down fugitives overseas, has so far caught 180 suspects for various “economic crimes”.

Xu said that only two fugitives had been extradited from the US back to China over the past two decades.

“Overseas countries must strengthen their political willingness and discard their prejudices,” he said.

One fugitive, Yu Zhendong, a former manager at the Bank of China’s branch in Kaiping, was accused of involvement in a scam that embezzled US$485 million and laundered it in the US.

Yu pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 12 years in jail by a US court in 2004 before he voluntarily returned to China on condition that he would not face the death penalty.

Zhuang Deshui, an anti-corruption expert at Peking University, said getting corrupt officials to stand trial overseas was difficult because huge amounts of evidence had to be gathered to prove wrongdoing.

Suspects convicted overseas might not be returned to China and there were no guarantees that stolen or illegal assets would be recovered, he said.

China has so far signed 39 extradition treaties with various nations, with 29 in force, plus 52 criminal judicial assistance treaties, with 46 in force.

Fugitives could also appeal to local courts to try to get extradition decisions overturned, he said.

“Some foreign judges end up handing down a decision of no extradition or repatriation because of a lack of understanding of China’s laws and judicial practice,” he said.

Xu said some fugitives were “encouraged” to return to China.

Fugitives who surrendered might receive a reduced sentence, he added.