Italy returns top wanted Chinese fugitive in first such extradition from Europe to China

BEIJING (China Daily/Asia News Network) - One of China's most wanted economic fugitives has been extradited back to the country to face trial after 10 years on the run in Italy, the Ministry of Public Security said.

"It is thought to be the first case in which a European country has approved the extradition of a Chinese economic fugitive in accordance with their laws," the ministry said on Tuesday.

The suspect, a woman surnamed Zhang, is accused of stealing more than 1.4 million yuan (S$301,125) from clients between January 2000 and January 2005 while working at a securities company in Hebei.

In October 2005, she fled to Italy to avoid the police. Prosecutors in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, issued an warrant for her arrest.

The ministry also notified Interpol, which served the warrant overseas. In October last year, Italian police arrested Zhang, and notified the Chinese police, who requested for her extradition.

The United States, Canada, Australia and some European countries have become destinations of choice for Chinese corrupt officials, who transfer illegal proceeds through money laundering schemes and underground banks.

The ministry conducted a half-year-long special campaign last July, dubbed "Fox Hunt", to nab Chinese economic fugitives on the run and to confiscate their ill-gotten assets.

Ministry data show that, by the end of December, 690 economic fugitives, including more than 40 corrupt officials, had been brought back to stand trial from more than 60 countries and regions.

Liu Dong, deputy director of the ministry's economic crime investigation bureau, said that the "authorities still face practical challenges in repatriating Chinese fugitives, due to obstacles in laws and different legal procedures between China and other countries".

He said China will enhance law enforcement cooperation with relevant countries, with a view toward intelligence sharing and drawing up detailed arrest plans.

To date, the ministry has established law enforcement cooperation with 189 countries and regions and sent 49 police liaison officers to 27 countries and regions to fight cross-border crimes and safeguard the safety of overseas Chinese.