China targets overseas fund transfers in graft fight

BEIJING - China has launched a coordinated crackdown by several departments targeting offshore companies and underground banks that transfer assets abroad, the corruption watchdog said on Thursday, in the latest step to battle graft.

The campaign will be led by the central People's Bank of China in coordination with the Ministry of Public Security, Supreme Court, state prosecutors' office and State Administration of Foreign Exchange and last until the end of the year, the watchdog said in a statement on its website.

It will target underground banks and offshore companies that transfer ill-gotten gains from bribery out of the country, the statement said.

The move will "to a large degree sever the transfer channel for the ill-gotten assets and gains from corruption, bribery and other crimes, and earnestly maintain the state's normal financial management order", it added.

The statement did not elaborate and provided no further details.

However, the campaign is part of an initiative the government calls "Sky Net" to better coordinate its fight against suspected corrupt officials who have fled abroad.

President Xi Jinping has vowed to target both high-level "tigers" as well as lowly "flies", warning, as others have before him, that graft is so serious it threatens the ruling Communist Party's grip on power.

The corruption watchdog says 500 suspects were repatriated to China last year, along with more than 3 billion yuan ($484 million).

China has given the United States a "priority" list of Chinese officials suspected of corruption and who are believed to have fled there.

Chinese officials have said more than 150 "economic fugitives", many of them described as corrupt government officials, were in the United States.

There is no extradition treaty between the two countries and Western governments have long been reluctant to hand over suspects because of a lack of transparency and due process in China's judicial system.