China nets 680 fugitives in anti-graft drive

China nets 680 fugitives in anti-graft drive

Since July, when the Chinese authorities launched Fox Hunt, an operation to track down economic fugitives and confiscate their ill-gotten assets, 680 suspects have been brought back from abroad to face trial, the Ministry of Public Security said on Thursday.

Of those, 290 were forcibly captured by the police, while 390 others in 69 countries and regions were persuaded to return to China and confess their crimes-four times more than in 2013, according to the ministry.

The police brought back 13 corrupt officials who had fled to other countries, including Wang Guoqiang, former Party chief of Fengcheng, Liaoning province, to face justice after he spent two years on the run in the United States following a corruption scandal. Several billion yuan that had been illegally transferred abroad was also recovered, the ministry said.

"A number of suspects have been transferred to prosecutors to face trial," said Liu Dong, deputy director of the ministry's economic crimes investigation bureau. "The courts will also decide how seized assets should be handled."

When Fox Hunt began, the police provided a priority list of alleged economic suspects to the law enforcement authorities of 90 countries and regions, asking for assistance. Most actively cooperated in the investigation and repatriation of fugitives, said Meng Qingfeng, director of the ministry's economic crimes investigation bureau.

"The six-month drive, supported by 70 special investigation teams, has been a major breakthrough in the country's wide-ranging crackdown on corruption," he said.

He said police officers have netted many fugitives from Southeast Asian and African countries. For the first time, many suspects have also been brought back from places like Fiji and Spain.

In addition, the US, Canada and Australia are cooperating with China in the hunt for suspects and stolen assets, he said. The police have brought back more than 80 fugitives, including many corrupt officials, from those three countries since July, a sharp increase compared with the last 10 years.

Liu said Chinese authorities will negotiate with their US counterparts "on major cases and work closely on some individual cases".

Moreover, he said, China and Australia will enhance their exchange of financial intelligence to track illegal funds that corrupt Chinese officials transferred to Australia, as well as to combat money-laundering crimes.

Although some progress has been made, Liu acknowledged that practical challenges remain. It can be difficult, for example, to confiscate assets a suspect sent abroad "due to legal obstacles and different legal procedures", he said.

Moreover, law enforcement and judicial authorities in some Western countries, such as the US or Australia, also seem prejudiced against the Chinese legal system and its procedures, and they mistakenly believe "Chinese judicial officers will torture the suspects and unfairly prosecute them," he said.

"Although the Fox Hunt action has temporarily ended, we will continue looking for fugitives who are still at large in foreign countries," Liu said.

The opportunity should be seized to build up resources and expand channels with other countries to bring more fugitives back to face trial, he said.

According to Huang Feng, a law professor at Beijing Normal University, the priority is to "cultivate professional law enforcement officers who are familiar with international conventions and laws".

"In addition, our judicial organs should focus on grasping solid evidence and completing the chain of evidence before flying abroad to capture fugitives and confiscate assets," he said.

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