China steps up hunt for corrupt officials overseas-state media

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will step up its hunt for corrupt officials who have fled abroad, confiscate illegal assets of overseas fugitives and stop suspect offenders leaving the country, as it intensifies the fight against graft, state media said on Wednesday, citing the country's top prosecutor.

Cao Jianming, the head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said China will "work more closely with judicial organs abroad to expand channels and measures to hunt those who have fled and to recover ill-gotten gains", the China Daily newspaper said.

"Once evidence is sufficient, we'll initiate the confiscation procedure according to the law," Cao was quoted as saying.

China has long grappled with the problem of so-called "naked officials", the term for government workers whose husbands, wives or children are all overseas, have used their foreign family connections to illegally move assets or avoid probes.

The estimated number of mainland officials and their family members shifting assets offshore varies among academics, with some putting it at more than one million in the past five years.

Cao said 10.14 billion yuan (S$2.09 billion) in "dirty money" and property was recovered and 762 corruption suspects were captured at home or abroad last year, the China Daily said.

But Chinese judicial officers face challenges in capturing fugitives and the proceeds of their crimes due to the political and legal hurdles involved in extradition, evidence collection and China's use of the death penalty, the paper quoted Cao as saying.

China has more than 500 economic fugitives abroad, most of them in the United States, Canada and Southeast Asian countries, the China Daily said, citing the ministry of public security.

Those suspected of offering and taking bribes and dereliction of duty will be banned "more quickly from leaving China and supervision will be tightened on officials", Cao said.

The moves marked the government's latest effort to make life tougher for officials looking to spirit assets and family members out of the country to avoid close scrutiny and strict currency controls.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made fighting pervasive graft a central theme since becoming president last year and has warned, like others before him, that corruption threatens the party's survival.