Chinese graft fugitive Jiang Lei returns from New Zealand to surrender

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A former Chinese automotive official suspected of corruption has returned home from New Zealand to "surrender" to the authorities, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday (Dec 14), as Beijing steps up efforts to repatriate fugitives.

China's highly publicised "sky-net" operation to return corruption suspects who fled overseas is a crucial plank of President Xi Jinping's sweeping campaign to eradicate graft.

Beijing has recently redoubled efforts to press graft suspects who remain overseas to give themselves up, such as asking families to contact them and encourage them to return, and releasing personal details, such as their addresses.

Some Western nations have been reluctant to return suspects, or sign extradition treaties with China, viewing its legal system as opaque, in addition to concerns over rights abuses and a lack of due process.

The return of Jiang Lei, a former deputy president of China's Association of Automobile Manufacturers, was arranged by the international arm of the country's powerful anti-graft agencies together with New Zealand law enforcement, Xinhua said.

In a statement e-mailed to Reuters, New Zealand Justice Minister Andrew Little said Jiang had not been extradited, but declined further comment.

Jiang returned after talks with Chinese authorities that involved his lawyer, New Zealand police said.

"Jiang Lei has returned to China voluntarily, following an agreement between himself, his solicitor and Chinese authorities," a spokeswoman said.

"New Zealand police was not a party to the agreement but were aware of the negotiations."

Interpol issued a "red notice" - an international alert for a wanted person - for Jiang in August 2007, after Chinese prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest. He had fled the country for New Zealand in April that year.

Jiang's case shows China's resolve to bring to justice all graft suspects overseas, an unidentified official told Xinhua.

Those overseas should "abandon illusions" and grasp the opportunity to surrender, in order to receive more lenient treatment, the official added.

In 2017, 1,300 fugitives were returned to China from overseas, including 347 corrupt officials, and 980 million yuan (S$195 million) in illicit assets recovered.