Corrupt Chinese officials may lose haven

Updated: 2014-11-19 06:51

By Chen Weihua(China Daily USA)

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The United States has been waging wars all over the world trying to deny safe haven to extreme terrorists. But to many Chinese, the US itself has long been a safe haven for a large group of bad guys — corrupt Chinese officials on the run.

Corrupt officials, who have embezzled huge amounts of public money, have caused no less harm to the Chinese people than terrorists, as various surveys show that corruption remains one of the top concerns among the Chinese public.Corrupt Chinese officials may lose haven

A report from the People's Bank of China, the central bank, back in 2011 revealed that between 16,000 and 18,000 corrupt Chinese officials and top executives from State-owned enterprises have sought safe haven abroad, taking with them more than 800 billion yuan ($130 billion) in illicitly obtained money.

The US, Canada and Australia have been the three top destinations for these crooked Chinese officials and SOE executives.

While high standards of living and good schools for their children are the reason, many corrupt officials chose these countries largely because they have no extradition treaty with China. Only a few corrupt Chinese officials have been extradited from or deported by these countries, often on a case-by-case basis because of the lack of an extradition treaty.

China has inked bilateral extradition treaties with 38 countries, mostly developing nations. The existence of the death penalty in China has been one of the major obstacles for China's getting a treaty with Western nations.

With Chinese President Xi Jinping demonstrating strong resolve to fight corruption in the past two years, those who have sought or are seeking safe haven overseas have come under keen scrutiny back in China.

On Monday, the Ministry of Public Security announced that 288 Chinese economic fugitives on the run overseas have been nabbed since Operation Fox Hunt 2014 was launched in July to hunt down criminals hiding abroad.

The Chinese government has actively sought the cooperation of foreign governments, including the US, in tracking down these outlaws in hiding. Chinese officials have also urged the US for the negotiation and conclusion of a bilateral extradition treaty.

The World Journal, a US-based Chinese language newspaper, reported that some 1,000 corrupt Chinese officials live in the US, many in the Los Angeles area. Some news reports said that the Chinese government has been seeking the US' help by presenting a list of 1,000 corrupt Chinese officials now hiding in the US.

Though only a few corrupt Chinese officials have been sent back to China from the US, many Chinese see hope in some major progress on this issue recently.

The Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption, adopted during the APEC leaders' summit in Beijing 10 days ago, reaffirmed the commitment to denying safe haven to those engaged in corruption, including through extradition, mutual legal assistance and the recovery and return of ill-gotten wealth. It also promises to strengthen information sharing among APEC members and look anew at the potential of enhancing bilateral cooperation to fight corruption through the use of existing international legal instruments, such as the UN Convention against Corruption.

In Beijing, US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced the US support for the adoption of the declaration. He said the US is willing to work with China to carry out law enforcement cooperation in related fields, as long as there is evidence, and the US would not become a haven for corrupt elements.

"Corruption not only creates an unfair playing field, it not only distorts economic relationships, but corruption also steals from the people of every country the belief that the system can work for everybody," he said.

A White House press release hails the creation of a new network of anticorruption authorities and law enforcement agencies, known as ACT-NET, to fight corruption in the region.

On Sunday, the G20 leaders in Brisbane, Australia, also adopted the 2015/16 anti-corruption action plan, which includes, among other things, international cooperation to hunt down corrupt people who exploit international borders to avoid prosecution.

A Pew Center survey released this month showed that crime and corruption top all other problems in emerging and developing nations. While in this survey only 54 percent of the Chinese polled said corruption was a big problem in their country — lower than the 72 percent median figure in the study — corruption has been a major source of serious public complaint for the past few decades.

Many Chinese hope that the new anti-corruption momentum gained under President Xi will be sustained. They also hope the campaign will be reinforced by the latest agreements reached at the APEC and G20 summits, in particular by denying safe haven to corrupt Chinese officials.

For these Chinese, the US, Canada and Australia are clearly in the spotlight. The ball is in their court.

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