Fewer graft suspects fleeing China amid tighter controls

China has pursued an overseas search for corrupt officials and business executives who have fled abroad with their assets.
China has pursued an overseas search for corrupt officials and business executives who have fled abroad with their assets.PHOTO: REUTERS

Prevention as important as efforts to get suspects to return, says anti-graft watchdog

BEIJING • The number of corruption suspects fleeing China in the last four years has fallen dramatically as the government steps up controls on matters such as passport issuance for officials, the ruling Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog said yesterday.

China has pursued an overseas search dubbed Operation Fox Hunt for corrupt officials and business executives who have fled abroad with their assets, part of President Xi Jinping's war on deep-seated corruption.

In a lengthy statement offering rare details of the behind-the- scenes action taken, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said prevention was just as important as efforts to get back those who were already abroad.

In 2014, 101 officials fled, in 2015 the number fell to 31, while last year only 19 escaped, the commission said. It attributed the fall to strengthened measures, especially against those whose entire families were already overseas, such as tighter passport controls and restrictions on moving money offshore.

In 2015, the authorities published a list of 100 of the most wanted corruption suspects who had been targeted with an Interpol red notice, many living in the United States, Canada and Australia.

The commission said 40 have returned to China, most of them having been persuaded to give themselves up. A poster of pictures of the 100 most wanted bore a large red stamp with the word "arrested" in English across the faces of those who had returned to China.

China has been pushing for extradition treaties but Western countries have been reluctant to help, not wanting to send people back to a country where human rights groups say mistreatment of suspects is a concern and there is a lack of due legal process.

Some Western officials have also expressed concern that China has put undue pressure on family members to try and persuade graft suspects to return voluntarily.

The commission made no mention of these concerns, but said persuasion was a way to "persuade and educate" them to come back to China to "accept handling".

The war on graft saw the state prosecutor yesterday formally indicting the former head of the National Statistics Bureau (NSB).

Wang Baoan, who was sacked last year, is accused of taking advantage of his posts as NBS chief and assistant and vice-finance minister to benefit others, and "illegally accepting a huge amount of money and property" either by himself or through others, Xinhua news agency said, citing the Supreme People's Procuratorate. Neither Wang nor a representative could be reached for a comment.

Former Sichuan province vice- governor Li Chengyun was also indicted on suspicion of bribery. He is accused of accepting payments and taking advantage of his posts while in that job and as the Communist Party chief of Deyang city, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Separately, the official news agency said in a commentary published on Monday that the government has "zero tolerance for any fabrication of economic data" as authentic figures are important for making correct decisions that benefit the people.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Fewer graft suspects fleeing China amid tighter controls'. Print Edition | Subscribe