Italy seeks to in­dict Bank of China em­ploy­ees

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE -

Ital­ian pros­e­cu­tors are seek­ing to in­dict 297 peo­ple and the Bank of China in con­nec­tion with a mas­sive money-laun­der­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­ported by The As­so­ci­ated Press ear­lier this month.

The sus­pects, mostly Chi­nese mi­grants liv­ing in Italy, in­clude four se­nior man­agers of the Chi­nese state bank’s branch in Mi­lan. Ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, at least some of the sus­pects used Mafi­a­like tech­niques, in­clud­ing in­tim­i­da­tion, the ANSA news agency re­ported Satur­day.

The case high­lights the large un­der­ground Chi­nese econ­omy in Europe and the fail­ure of ju­di­cial and le­gal co­op­er­a­tion to keep pace with the eco­nomic ties, both le­gal and illegal, that bind China with the West.

Pros­e­cu­tors said more than 4.5 bil­lion eu­ros (US$5.1 bil­lion) in pro­ceeds from coun­ter­feit­ing, pros­ti­tu­tion, la­bor ex­ploita­tion and tax eva­sion was sent to China in less than four years us­ing a money-trans­fer ser­vice part-owned by Chi­nese mi­grants. Nearly half that money was fun­neled through the Bank of China, which in turn earned over 758,000 eu­ros in com­mis­sions, ac­cord­ing to Ital­ian in­ves­tiga­tive doc­u­ments. Pros­e­cu­tors said the money had been frac­tioned into small sums to avoid de­tec­tion and that the bank’s man­age­ment and au­dit staff failed to re­port sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tions, help­ing con­ceal the source and des­ti­na­tion of the funds.

Bei­jing, which is seek­ing Western help in hunt­ing its own eco­nomic fugi­tives, did not co­op­er­ate with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Ital­ian of­fi­cials said. Once the money left Italy, it ef­fec­tively van­ished. Ital­ian po­lice were un­able to con­tinue their in­ves­ti­ga­tion in China, but the AP was able to track some of the miss­ing money to a large gov­ern­ment­con­trolled im­port-ex­port com­pany that has been ac­cused of re­peat­edly ship­ping coun­ter­feit mer­chan­dise, some of it to the United States.

In re­sponse to AP’s ar­ti­cle, China’s state-run Global Times news­pa­per pub­lished a re­but­tal, in Chi­nese, de­fend­ing the Bank of China and crit­i­ciz­ing the AP’s re­port as “strange.” The ar­ti­cle, which was picked up by other Chi­nese media, quoted a law ex­pert say­ing that the Bank of China has “no obli­ga­tion to co­op­er­ate with Ital­ian po­lice.”

The Bank of China has de­nied wrong­do­ing, and lawyers for the money trans­fer net­work’s own­ers have said their clients are not guilty.

Ju­di­cial co­op­er­a­tion has be­come cru­cial for Bei­jing, which is pres­sur­ing Western gov­ern­ments to help hunt cor­rupt of­fi­cials who have fled over­seas. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s far-reach­ing anti-graft drive is a top pri­or­ity for the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party as it seeks to shore up its le­git­i­macy. Bei­jing has al­ready pun­ished over 100,000 of­fi­cials for cor­rup­tion.

Italy and China signed a memo- ran­dum of ju­di­cial co­op­er­a­tion in Septem­ber. So far, the most vis­i­ble signs of col­lab­o­ra­tion have been in Bei­jing’s fa­vor.

In Fe­bru­ary, Italy ex­tra­dited a Chi­nese woman ac­cused of steal­ing more than 1.4 mil­lion yuan (US$225,515) dur­ing her ten­ure at a se­cu­ri­ties com­pany in Heibei province. It was the first time any­one had been ex­tra­dited from Europe for an eco­nomic crime, ac­cord­ing to China’s Min­istry of Public Se­cu­rity.

Un­der Italy’s jus­tice sys­tem, a judge will con­sider the pros­e­cu­tor’s re­quest and ei­ther or­der a trial or throw out the case. The judge’s eval­u­a­tion could take months be­fore a de­ci­sion is made.

In Italy, in­sti­tu­tions as well as in­di­vid­u­als can be or­dered to stand trial.

The case in­volves oper­a­tions car­ried out dur­ing the pe­riod from 2007-2010, ANSA said.

Pros­e­cu­tors’ of­fices were closed over the week­end.

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