China says graft suspect extradited from EU state for first time

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has extradited a corruption suspect for the first time from a European Union member state, the country’s top graft buster said on Friday, getting back from Bulgaria a former local official wanted for taking bribes.

A key plank of President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign has been the drive to repatriate overseas fugitives suspected of corruption and economic crimes through widely publicized operations dubbed “Fox Hunt” and “Sky Net”.

But China has had limited success in securing cooperation from western countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia, where many of its most-wanted suspects reside, largely because of what those governments see as a lack of transparency and due process in China’s judicial system.

In a brief statement, China’s National Supervision Commission said that with Bulgaria’s help, Yao Jinqi had been extradited back to China.

“This is the first time we have successfully extradited a bureaucrat suspected of work-related crimes from an EU member state,” it said.

Yao was a county-level official in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang, and fled the country in December 2005 after being investigated for taking bribes, the commission said.

Yao, who was the target of an Interpol red notice, was detained by Bulgarian police on Oct. 17, and a Sofia court later approved his extradition to China, it added.

It was not possible to ascertain if Yao has been given legal representation in China or to contact any family members for comment.

Many other graft suspects have given themselves up and come back to China under their own volition, according to the Chinese government, though rights groups have expressed concern that China has sometimes put pressure on their families to achieve this.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Darren Schuettler