China says first suspect back from France under extradition pact

BEIJING (AFP) - China said on Tuesday (Sept 20) it had secured the return of a corruption suspect from France, the first such case since the two countries signed an extradition treaty that took effect in 2015.

Chen Wenhua, wanted for economic crimes by the public security bureau in the eastern province of Zhejiang, was returned last week thanks to assistance from France and the Chinese embassy in Paris, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

"It's a major breakthrough in this area and is another successful example of repatriating criminals from European countries, after Italy and Spain," he said.

"In the future we will intensify our efforts, improve our legal system, and improve this Skynet so that it can reach to every corner of the world," he added.

"Operation Skynet" is a multi-agency effort to bring back corruption suspects from abroad.

Chen fled to France in March 2013 after being accused of embezzling more than 20 million yuan (S$4 million) in public funds between 2009 and 2012, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing Zhejiang police.

In 2014 Chinese police approved his arrest and Interpol issued a red notice for him, it added, saying that French police apprehended him last year.

Since becoming party chief in 2012, President Xi Jinping has carried out a much-publicised anti-corruption drive. Its highest-profile victim was the once-hugely powerful security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was sentenced to life in prison.

Critics say the campaign may be partially politically motivated and used as a tool in internal faction-fighting.

Operation Skynet expanded the campaign to corruption suspects overseas, where Chinese police say they have found 409 fugitives, according to Xinhua.

The attempt to track overseas fugitives has had a mixed reaction from foreign governments. Media reports say Chinese agents have raised hackles by unilaterally pursuing suspects abroad.