China says nets 680 graft suspects abroad in 'unprecedented' haul

This picture taken on Sept 27, 2014 shows soldiers standing before freshly decorated Tiananmen Gate a few days before the 65th anniversary of People's Republic of China in Beijing. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on Sept 27, 2014 shows soldiers standing before freshly decorated Tiananmen Gate a few days before the 65th anniversary of People's Republic of China in Beijing. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's aggressive anti-corruption campaign targeting suspects who have fled abroad has led to an "unprecedented" repatriation of 680 people suspected of committing economic crimes, the China's Ministry of Public Security said on Thursday.

Last July, the government launched the campaign, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt, to hunt down officials and businessmen who have absconded, often taking their ill-gotten gains with them.

China's Ministry of Public Security called the number of fugitives captured abroad "unprecedented". It said the 680 people captured from July to December last year was 4.5 times the total number in 2013. "This operation has achieved great victories and remarkable results," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

The repatriation of the 680 suspects also included the capture of 117 suspects who had been at large for over a decade and 390 people who turned themselves in.

The government has given no recent overall figure for the number at large around the world.

The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity Group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates that $1.08 trillion illegally flowed out of China from 2002 to 2011.

President Xi Jinping has launched a sweeping campaign against graft since assuming power in 2013, but has been hampered to an extent by difficulty in getting corrupt officials and assets back from overseas.

China does not have extradition treaties with the United States and Canada - the two most popular destinations for suspected economic criminals. State media said last year that China is looking at signing an agreement with the United States to target assets illegally taken out of China by corrupt officials.

Western countries have balked at signing extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about the integrity of its judicial system and treatment of prisoners. Rights groups say Chinese authorities use torture and that the death penalty is common in corruption cases.