China launches 'Sky Net' to better coordinate graft fight

BEIJING (REUTERS) - The Chinese government has unveiled an initiative called "Sky Net" to better coordinate its fight against suspected corrupt officials who have fled overseas, and to recover their dirty assets, the latest step in its fight against graft.

The group will be comprised of officials from the Communist Party's corruption watchdog the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Public Security Ministry, the Supreme Prosecutor, the party's Organisation Department and the central People's Bank of China.

It will kick off operations next month, the party's graft watchdog said in a statement issued late on Thursday, aiming to"focus strength" on "seizing corrupt elements ... striking underground banks, getting back assets and convincing those who have fled abroad to return".

The Ministry of Public Security will concentrate on officials who have fled abroad because they are already leading the similar "Fox Hunt" initiative, the statement said.

The central bank will go after offshore companies and underground banks that transfer assets abroad, it said.

The Organisation Department, a powerful and secretive body that oversees personnel decisions, will watch trips by officials abroad.

With the establishment of Sky Net, "corrupt elements will not be allowed to have a haven from their crimes, and will have nowhere to hide from the law", said the statement, citing Supervision Minister Huang Shuxian.

Last week, the corruption watchdog said 500 suspects were repatriated to China last year, along with more than 3 billion yuan (S$661 million).

The Chinese government has given the United States a"priority" list of Chinese officials suspected of corruption and who are believed to have fled there, a top state-run newspaper said on Wednesday.

Chinese officials have said more than 150 "economic fugitives", many of them described as corrupt government officials, were in the United States.

There is no extradition treaty between the two countries and Western governments have long been reluctant to hand over suspects because of a lack of transparency and due process in China's judicial system.

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