China's corrupt officials finding it harder to escape abroad

The number of corrupt officials who have escaped overseas has declined sharply amid an intensified anti-graft drive, a senior official said on Monday.

Since 2014, the number of newly identified corrupt officials who have fled China has fallen annually, said Liu Jianchao, director of the International Cooperation Bureau under the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

In 2016, 19 corrupt officials escaped abroad to avoid legal punishment, decreasing by 89 per cent compared with 101 in 2014, according to CCDI.

"Tightened management of the officials' passports and measures adopted to prevent the suspects from leaving the country all contributed to the sharp decline of the newly added fugitives," said Huang Feng, a law professor at Beijing Normal University.

China also has enhanced law enforcement co-operation with other countries, improving the success rate in returning fugitives from overseas to face trial, which also serves as a deterrent, he said.

Between early 2014 and the end of 2016, Chinese judicial officers had returned 2,566 corrupt fugitives from more than 70 countries and regions, including the United States, Canada and Singapore, according to the CCDI.

They also confiscated 8.64 billion yuan ($1.25 billion) in illegal assets.

A large number of corrupt Chinese officials have escaped to countries such as the United States, partly because of the lack of a bilateral extradition treaty and differences in their legal systems.

Such officials transferred billions of yuan in illicit assets to foreign accounts through money laundering or underground banks.

Since April 2015, when Interpol issued red notices for the capture of the 100 most-wanted Chinese corrupt officials, 37 have been returned from more than 16 countries and regions.

Half of the rest are still at large in the US and Canada.

Liu said they will improve judicial co-operation, including intelligence sharing and joint investigation, with their counterparts, especially in Western countries.

They also will conduct more case by case negotiations with US judicial authorities on important cases.

He said they also will work on collecting solid evidence in China on the fugitives to offer their counterparts as much information as possible-including the suspects' location and how assets were moved and where they are-when they request foreign judicial assistance in arresting the fugitives and confiscating their dirty money.

China will conduct a new round of its multiagency Sky-net campaign against the fugitives in March or April, according to CCDI.

"No matter who is involved and wherever they flee, we will make every effort to bring them back to face justice," Liu added.