September 21, 2016 / 3:36 AM / 3 years ago

China puts new focus on illicit assets in corruption fugitive hunt

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will step up efforts to recover stolen money taken overseas as part of its crackdown on corruption, state media said, after officials warned of the difficulty of tracking graft suspects and their illicit assets abroad.

Birds fly past the chimney of a thermal power plant as China's national flag flutters in a suburb in Shanghai January 9, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Securing ill-gotten wealth from corrupt officials who have fled the country has been part of China’s multi-agency “Sky Net” campaign launched in 2014, though authorities have especially touted the return of hundreds of fugitives.

China has been trying to get increased international cooperation to hunt down corrupt officials since President Xi Jinping began a war against graft nearly four years ago.

But some Western countries have been reluctant to help, not wanting to send people back to a country where rights groups say mistreatment of criminal suspects remains a problem, and also complaining China is unwilling to provide proof of their crimes.

In April, Huang Shuxian, deputy head of the graft-busting Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said that the task was “very difficult”.

“While the previous priority was collecting evidence in overseas manhunts, the recovery of assets acquired illegally in China will be a new anti-corruption initiative in the coming months,” the official English-language China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing an unnamed senior public security official.

The official said police will work with China’s central bank to crack down on officials who have transferred billions of yuan in illegal funds to foreign accounts through money laundering or underground banks.

“Several more fugitives will be extradited from Europe and South America in the near future,” the China Daily cited the official as saying.

China does not have extradition treaties with the United States, Australia or Canada, which according to state media are popular destinations for its suspected economic criminals.

Beijing instead has turned to persuasion to get some people back. A man on China’s list of 100 most wanted corruption suspects abroad voluntarily returned to China from Canada, authorities said in June, without elaborating on the reasons why he had done so.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said Canada would stick to high standards when deciding whether to return Chinese citizens after the two countries agreed to start talks about an extradition treaty.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry

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