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China seeking an end to 'safe havens' for officials

China Daily, November 27, 2014 Adjust font size:

China is calling on the United States and other Western countries to work with it to send back officials who have fled overseas with public money.

A government official told a news conference yesterday that some countries had "passive attitudes" about signing extradition treaties with China.

Xu Rong, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' treaty and law division said China had tried to persuade the United States to sign an extradition treaty but Washington had said it was "not ready."

Xu said China is considering suing people suspected of committing economic crimes who had fled to the US and elsewhere.

"One way is to repatriate the relevant suspects through the mechanism of illegal immigration, the other way is to prosecute them in the United States, so the suspects can be tried under US law," Xu said.

Washington-based Global Financial Integrity Group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates US$1.08 trillion left China illegally between 2002 and 2011. China said earlier this month it had captured 288 fugitives suspected of economic crimes in its "Operation Fox Hunt" campaign.

Xu said that some judges in Western countries, including the US and Canada, harbored "prejudice" about China's legal system and were reluctant to return officials and executives suspected of corruption.

Xu said the legal process for the repatriation of fugitives from the US, Canada and elsewhere was "cumbersome and lengthy."

The government would not make agreements with corrupt suspects for their return to China, Xu said, although they would face lighter punishments if they surrendered.

"China's judiciary and law enforcement agencies will not do business with these fugitives," Xu said. "We will work within the scope of the law."

He said that foreign judges who ruled against expatriating Chinese fugitives lacked a proper understanding of China's laws and the country's judicial process.

The US, Canada and Australia — the favorite destinations for Chinese officials accused of corruption — had yet to sign extradition treaties and China is appealing to these nations in particular to work with it to combat transnational corruption, Xu said.

China wanted countries deemed "safe havens" by corrupt fugitives to work with it on the problem.

Xu recognized "tremendous challenges and difficulties" in the drive to root out corruption, detain those who have fled abroad and recover illicit assets internationally.

He said it is necessary for countries reluctant to sign extradition treaties to strengthen political willingness and discard prejudice.

Meanwhile, China will increase communication with these countries to boost mutual trust, better handle legal barriers and explore pragmatic cooperation.

China began negotiations on mutual legal assistance and extradition treaties in the 1980s.

So far, China has concluded 39 extradition treaties and 52 criminal judicial assistance treaties with other countries, of which 29 extradition treaties and 46 criminal judicial assistance treaties are already in force.

"China has basically established the legal network for hunting fugitives fleeing abroad and recovering illicit assets, which covers major countries in each continent after nearly 30 years of unremitting efforts," Xu told reporters.

The foreign ministry will continue to press ahead with negotiations on bilateral judicial cooperation treaties, as well as expanding the related legal cooperation network, and resort to multilateral treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption to pursue criminals and return their illicit funds, he said.

Of extradition treaties signed with Western countries including France, Spain, Australia, Italy and Portugal, the treaties with Spain and Portugal are already in effect.

China has approved a treaty with Australia, but the Australian Parliament has yet to ratify it.

"Both sides touched upon the issue during President Xi Jinping's visit to Australia this month and Australia said it would speed up the ratification process," Xu said.

He acknowledged that the lack of a treaty with the US remained a major obstacle that made extradition cooperation impossible.

China can only take other steps, such as repatriation or prosecution in the US, he said.

US laws state that only through a treaty can two countries cooperate on extradition. Even the UN Convention against Corruption cannot serve as the legal basis for extradition.

"But the US seems unprepared for such treaty," Xu said.

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