BEIJING - Chinese corruption suspects who have fled abroad have been abusing legal systems of host countries to prolong their cases in what is a big challenge to China's efforts to get them back, a top anti-graft official said on Thursday.
In an unusual effort at transparency, Liu Jianchao, who runs the secretive corruption watchdog's team trying to repatriate graft suspects, told foreign reporters China had to respect the laws of other countries in trying to get those people returned.
But underscoring the limits of the openness quest, Liu declined to answer questions about one of the most sensitive cases that involves the brother of a one-time senior aide to a then president, Hu Jintao.
Liu said China has pursued and brought home more than 800 suspected corrupt officials, including 18 of the top 100 suspects it targeted with an Interpol red notice in April.
Still, he said it was an uphill task. "China respects the law and legal procedures of the host country. At the same time, we hope that the relevant laws and procedures of these countries are not abused by suspects," Liu said.
Many of the suspects took large sums of money with them when they fled, and can afford to drag out legal cases using the best lawyers, he added. "Using this illegal money to defend their illegal actions is a challenge to justice and the law," Liu said.
China needs to think of ways to prevent this, he said, without elaborating.
China's efforts have long been hampered by Western nations that balk at signing extradition deals, partly out of concern about its judicial system.
Rights groups say Chinese authorities use torture and the death penalty is common in corruption cases. Last week, a U.N. rights watchdog said torture remained rife in China.
Liu said authorities had not found any case or complaint that repatriated people had been mistreated and Chinese law guaranteed torture would not be used.
Another Western complaint is China's opacity, especially on sensitive political cases.
Liu was asked about Ling Wancheng, the brother of Ling Jihua, a one-time senior aide to retired president Hu Jintao. In July, the government said it would prosecute Ling Jihua after an investigation accused him of corruption.
"This issue is nothing to do with me. I don't know who is in charge of it," Liu said. "But if any Chinese citizen breaks Chinese law, they will be investigated."
Ling Wancheng is in the United States, sources have told Reuters, though China has given no details of any crime he is suspected of and he has not appeared on any Chinese wanted lists.