○ The recent return of Kong Guangsheng, one of Interpol's 100 most wanted Chinese fugitives, marks a big step forward in China's anti-corruption campaign.
○ There is now more cooperation between China and foreign countries in tracking down overseas Chinese lawbreakers.
Kong Guangsheng, one of China's most wanted fugitives, returned to the Chinese mainland and turned himself in to the police last Thursday, according to the anti-corruption authority.
A former general manager of Shengli Oilfield Qingdao Petroleum Industrial Co. Ltd., Kong was suspected of embezzlement and fled to Hong Kong in 2012, according to a statement released by the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
Kong is the 48th to return from a Red Notice list of 100 fugitives wanted by China issued by the Interpol in April 2015.
Over the past few years, Chinese authorities have been expanding their anti-corruption campaign overseas.
In July 2014, the Ministry of Public Security launched its "Fox Hunt" operation, a major part of the "Sky Net" campaign targeting fugitives abroad who are wanted for corruption or economic crimes. The operation has been jointly conducted by various departments, including the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the People's Bank of China.
In April of 2015, the Interpol National Central Bureau for China released red notices for the 100 most wanted Chinese fugitives abroad, including 40 thought to be hiding in the US, 26 in Canada and 10 in Australia.
As of this month, the Sky Net operation has tracked down over 3,000 fugitives from 90 countries, recovered more than 9 billion yuan ($1.36 billion) of booty and captured 48 out of 100 individuals on the red notice list. Of them all, the most infamous was Yang Xiuzhu, number one on the red notice.
Yang was the former vice mayor of Wenzhou, an industrial city in East China's Zhejiang Province who escaped China with approximately 19 million yuan in embezzled funds along with 7 million yuan in bribes. The woman had sworn that she'd "die in America," but on November 16, 2016, she turned herself in. She was sentenced to eight years imprisonment last Friday.
Her case is said to be a perfect demonstration of how much effort Chinese authorities have invested in the operation.
Tang Renwu, dean of the School of Governance of Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times that the stricter measures are a good way to deter any future occurrences of graft or corruption.
"Domestic corrupt officials who might have thought about escaping will not dare do it now, after seeing such tight measures and cooperation with a wide range of countries. They should know now that no matter where they escape to, there's no hiding place," he said.
Persuasion works best
According to the CCDI website, there are four ways China cooperates with foreign countries to recover fugitives: extradition, repatriation, off-site prosecution and persuasion for them to voluntarily return. The last measure is a new method by Chinese authorities and it has proven highly effective. In fact, most of the recovered fugitives on the red notice came back with this method.
"This is useful because China does not have extradition treaties with some Western countries. On the policy level there can be cooperation, but there can also be unofficial ways, such as persuasion," Tang said.
When, for example, a fugitive is having a hard time abroad due to being cut off from the world, if they are approached by their family they become vulnerable and more likely to have an epiphany about surrendering.
According to CCDI, Yang Lihu, the corporate representative of Anhui Tairui Medicine suspected of issuing fake VAT invoices, was the first Chinese fugitive successfully persuaded to come back from a Western country.
With his ill-gotten gains, Yang expected to live the good life after fleeing to Canada, but he quickly found himself isolated. He could not speak any English, dared not visit a doctor for his ailments and was cut off from his family, according to CCDI.
Living in constant fear of being caught by the police and having learned about China's anti-corruption campaign abroad, in 2015 Yang finally turned himself in.
Huang Feng, a professor at the Beijing Normal University, told Nanfang Daily that most of the G20 members are economically more developed and have better natural environment, which is attractive from the angle of immigration. Countries such as US, Canada and Australia have relatively relaxed immigration policies, which explains why 76 out of the 100 red notice members escaped to G20 member countries, namely US, Australia and Canada.
In remarks by Huang Shuxian, China's former minister of supervision, at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London in May of 2016, China is a member of 15 global and regional anti-corruption cooperation mechanisms.
China championed the adoption of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption, the establishment of the APEC Network of Anti-Corruption Authorities and Law Enforcement Agencies and the G20 Denial of Entry Experts' Network, and pushed for the establishment of a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) mechanism for anti-corruption cooperation.
China now has anti-corruption cooperation with 89 countries and regions, has concluded 44 extradition treaties and 57 treaties on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and has signed financial information exchange agreements with 35 countries and regions.
China also maintains close communication and cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Anti-Corruption Academy, Interpol, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and other organizations.
Chinese authorities have recently started involving foreign communities in its anti-corruption operations. In April, they released information for the first time on 22 suspects who fled overseas, including their possible current whereabouts, Xinhua reported.
The information included the suspect's name, gender, ID card number, former title, suspected crime, date of arrival in the current country and travel document number, according to a statement from an office in charge of fugitive repatriation and asset recovery under the Central Anti-corruption Coordination Group. Their whereabouts were as specific as the streets where the fugitives were believed to be living.
"We hope overseas Chinese, foreign citizens of Chinese origin and international friends will help identify these fugitives … and give them no place to hide," said the statement. It also said the public can report relevant information to Chinese authorities via an official website.
Despite such tight measures and close cooperation, Tang said recovering booty is still a challenge, even more so than capturing the suspects themselves. As overseas fugitives usually use multiple channels, both legal and illegal, to divert their ill-gotten assets overseas (and often under another person's name, such as distant family members), finding their stash is not unlike hunting for lost treasure.
But overall, he believes China has achieved a periodic victory in its anti-corruption campaign, as the measures tighten, China and the international community are coming to a consensus on the issue.
Casting a sky net
Operation Sky Net is an anti-graft campaign launched by Chinese authorities in a bid to capture corrupt officials who have fled abroad.
There are four ways to recover fugitives:
▶ Extradition: foreign countries send fugitives that China accuses as criminals or has already sentenced back for trial or to serve sentences.
▶ Repatriation: China provides leads to countries fugitives are in to request any foreigners without legal status be sent back.
▶ Off-site prosecution: China provides evidence and requests the foreign countries to prosecute the fugitives according to their laws.
▶ Persuasion to return: By educating and persuading the fugitives, help them turn themselves in back to China.
There are five ways to recover booty:
▶ With the aid of mutual assistance in criminal justice or extradition treaty
▶ Use local Criminal Assets Recovery Act of the country the suspect is in or any other domestic laws to retreat the booty
▶ By an overseas civil suit
▶ Using criminal policy to urge suspects or their relatives to voluntarily give up booty
▶ Go through forfeiture proceedings in Criminal Law