Au­thor­i­ties strengthen ef­forts to re­cover stolen as­sets over­seas

The na­tion’s top anti-graft bod­ies are work­ing to re­trieve more than $1 bil­lion sent to for­eign bank ac­counts by cor­rupt of­fi­cials. Zhang Yan re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Con­tact the writer at zhangyan1@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

The gov­ern­ment is step­ping up ef­forts to re­cover bil­lions of yuan in as­sets il­le­gally trans­ferred over­seas by cor­rupt of­fi­cials via money laun­der­ing plat­forms and un­der­ground banks.

Sta­tis­tics pro­vided by the Cen­tral Com­mis­sion for Dis­ci­pline In­spec­tion, the na­tion’s top anti-graft watchdog, show that from 2014 to July, the po­lice con­fis­cated il­licit as­sets sent over­seas worth 7.62 bil­lion yuan ($1.14 bil­lion).

Last month, dur­ing Premier Li Ke­qiang’s of­fi­cial visit to Canada, the two coun­tries signed a bi­lat­er­ala­gree­mentto share il­le­gally trans­ferred as­sets, a move that is be­ing seen as a mile­stone in China’s pro­gram to re­cover mis­ap­pro­pri­ated funds and as­sets. Sim­i­lar agree­ments are now un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion with the United States, Aus­tralia and France.

“Such agree­ments pro­vide a le­gal frame­work for the coun­tries in­volved to share the pro­ceeds of stolen as­sets with China, once they are able to con­firm that the money was trans­ferred il­le­gally by cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als or crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said Hong Daode, a pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nal lawat the China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Lawin Bei­jing.

Chain of ev­i­dence

Ac­cord­ing to theMin­istry of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity, a lack of bi­lat­eral ex­tra­di­tion treaties and dif­fer­ences in na­tional le­gal sys­tems have seen the US, Canada, Aus­tralia and Singapore be­come pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions for cor­rupt of­fi­cials in re­cent years.

YouXiaowen, deputy di­rec­tor of the min­istry’s eco­nomic crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tion depart­ment, said the Chi­nese po­lice face prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in repa­tri­at­ing fugi­tives and re­cov­er­ing funds: “It’s the re­sult of a lack of signed ex­tra­di­tion treaties, po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences and com­plex le­gal pro­ce­dures.”

Huang Feng, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal law at Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity, stressed that ev­i­dence is cru­cial in such cases. “The most dif­fi­cult is­sue is that we can’t pro­vide sound ev­i­den­tial doc­u­ments to our for­eign coun­ter­parts, such as the US and Canada, to form a ‘com­plete chain of ev­i­dence’,” he said.

Ev­i­dence of this kind, pre­pared to bet­ter meet the re­quire­ments of ju­di­cial sys­tems in Western coun­tries, is ex­pected to break the grid­lock of tech­ni­cal­i­ties that has been the big­gest ob­sta­cle to co­op­er­a­tion on law en­force­ment be­tween China and other coun­tries, he said.

Zhang Xiaom­ing, deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the ju­di­cial as­sis­tance and for­eign af­fairs depart­ment at the Min­istry of Jus­tice, said solid in­for­ma­tion is es­sen­tial when re­quest­ing ju­di­cial as­sis­tance from other coun­tries in “iden­ti­fy­ing, freez­ing and con­fis­cat­ing ill­got­ten as­sets that have been Zhao Ruheng,

one of China’s 100 most-wanted fugi­tives, coun­ter­signs his ar­rest war­rant at Shang­hai Pudong In­ter­na­tional Air­port af­ter be­ing repa­tri­ated in Novem­ber last year.

trans­ferred over­seas”.

Ac­cord­ing to Zhang, the in­for­ma­tion mainly in­cludes proof of bribes ac­cepted by of­fi­cial­swhoabused their­pow­erto ob­tainas­set­sil­le­gallyand­trans­fer them to other coun­tries.

Lei Ming, a se­nior of­fi­cer with the min­istry’s eco­nomic crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tion bureau, said more agree­ments will smooth the way for the re­cov­ery of stolen as­sets.

“When bi­lat­eral agree­ments have been signed with more Western coun­tries, they will fa­cil­i­tate the re­turn of the money trans­ferred by fugi­tives and the re­cov­ery of losses, which will help to com­bat crimes of this na­ture,” he said.

Amended laws

Un­der the re­vised 2014 Crim­i­nalPro­ce­du­ralLawif cor­rupt fugi­tives are at large in for­eign coun­tries, and there­fore un­ableto at­tend­court­hear­ings in China, pros­e­cu­tion lawyers will ap­ply to the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court, the coun­try’s top le­gal tri­bunal, to rule on the con­fis­ca­tion of as­sets they have moved over­seas.

“Then we will of­fer the nec­es­sary le­gal doc­u­ments, such as as­set-re­strain­ing or­ders, to other coun­tries to re­quest their ju­di­cial as­sis­tance in ac­cept­ing the ver­dict of the court, and take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to freeze and con­fis­cate the il­le­gal funds,” said Zhang, from theMin­istry of Jus­tice.

Be­fore the re­vised law came into force, if sus­pects failed to at­tend hear­ings, the courts were un­able to pro­nounce sen­tences or ar­range for their il­licit gains to be con­fis­cated.

In a re­cent high-pro­file case, Li Huabo, a for­mer fi­nance of­fi­cial from Jiangxi prov­ince, re­turned toChina in May last year af­ter spend­ing four years on the run in Singapore.

Li, 54, who em­bez­zled 94 mil­lionyuan, fledChi­nain2011 and ob­tained per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Singapore, but was later ar­rested by lo­cal po­lice at a casino. In 2014, a court in Singapore sen­tenced Li to 15 months in prison for “dis­hon­estly ac­cept­ing bribes” and il­le­gally trans­fer­ring the­money to Singapore via un­der­ground chan­nels.

A court in China ruled that the as­sets Li had sent over­seas should be con­fis­cated, even though he didn’t at­tend the hear­ing, and pro­vided solid ev­i­dence to the Sin­ga­porean au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing an as­set-re­strain­ing or­der, which was cru­cial for his suc­cess­ful repa­tri­a­tion and sub­se­quent trial.

Shift of fo­cus

Since Novem­ber 2012, when China’s new lead­er­ship was elected and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping launched a sweep­ing anti-graft cam­paign tar­get­ing both high and low-rank­ing of­fi­cials — or “tigers and flies” — the bat­tle against cor­rup­tion has be­come a na­tional pri­or­ity.

In 2014, the gov­ern­ment set up the Cen­tral Anti-Cor­rup­tion Co­or­di­na­tion Group, led by the CCDI, and launched Op­er­a­tion Sky Net to de­tain eco­nomic fugi­tives over­seas.

In April last year, In­ter­pol is­sued red no­tices — in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rants — for 100 ma­jor fugi­tive of­fi­cials. By this month, 35 had been repa­tri­ated from 16 coun­tries and re­gions, in­clud­ing four from theUS and eight from Canada, ac­cord­ing to the CCDI. Two of the 35 have al­ready been con­victed and sen­tenced.

As part of a new­fo­cus in the hunt, the po­lice will not only repa­tri­ate of­fi­cials who have ab­sconded over­seas, but will also place more em­pha­sis on re­cov­er­ing the as­sets they ob­tained il­le­gally, ac­cord­ing to theMin­istry of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity.

That will see pub­lic se­cu­rity au­thor­i­ties work­ing closely with the Peo­ple’s Bank of China’s anti–money laun­der­ing depart­ment to mon­i­tor sus­pi­cious flows of as­sets to other coun­tries and take mea­sures to pre­vent such crimes, ac­cord­ing toLeiMing, a se­nior min­istry of­fi­cial.

Au­thor­i­ties will also im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­duct joint in­ves­ti­ga­tions with other coun­tries on a caseby-case ba­sis to repa­tri­ate and try more cor­rupt of­fi­cials. They will also share in­tel­li­gence with their for­eign coun­ter­parts to lo­cate, freeze and re­cover stolen as­sets, he said.

YouXiaowen, deputy di­rec­tor of the eco­nomic crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tion depart­ment, said fugi­tives will have nowhere to hide: “No mat­ter where they es­cape to, we will use ev­ery means to bring them back to face the mu­sic.”

CHEN YEHUA / XIN­HUA

Po­lice of­fi­cers es­cort Li Huabo, a for­mer fi­nance of­fi­cial from Jiangxi prov­ince, at Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port af­ter he was repa­tri­ated from Singapore in May last year. The 54-year-old fled China in 2011 af­ter be­ing ac­cused of em­bez­zling 94 mil­lion yuan ($13 mil­lion).

CHEN JIN / XIN­HUA

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