China has solicited the help of foreign governments in tracking down and seizing the assets of corrupt Chinese officials, but the extent to which each country can help may be limited by their respective laws.
In July 2013, China began working with Canada and the United States to seize the proceeds of crime after implementing the United Nations Convention Against Corruption for the first time, Reuters reported.
The Chinese government estimated back in August that around 150 economic fugitives were hiding out in the US, but any proceeds that have been seized and returned to the Chinese government so far have been meager.
This is not because America is reluctant to help, but because US law requires that assets must be traceable to unlawful activity before they are seized — a task that is virtually impossible for US officials to complete given China’s lack of transparency.
The Chinese government gave the US a list back in December of more than 100 people suspected of corruption believed to be hiding in the US, promising to share up to 80% of the fugitives’ seized assets with the US government.
Many things about the list remain unclear, however. For one, while the names on the list are all Chinese, US officials have been unable to confirm whether or not the individuals listed are actually Chinese nationals, according to Reuters. China also failed to provide the US with any background information or evidence, which has made it difficult for law enforcement to track suspects down and trace them back to their crimes.
“It is really hard to know where this money comes from,” corporate attorney Nathaniel Edmonds told Business Insider, referring to the money used by wealthy Chinese immigrants to purchase assets such as cars and houses. “That is why identifying and reviewing accusations of corruption has been such a challenge for the US government.”
In China, bribery is a part of everyday life, and that’s becoming a problem for the government. Beijing lost more than $US1 trillion to tax evasion and corruption between 2003-2012, according to a report by Global Financial Integrity.
Another obstacle China faces in punishing economic fugitives is its lack of an extradition agreement with the US. Western governments have long been reluctant to hand over Chinese suspects because corruption in China is a capital crime, and suspects being tried there could receive the death penalty if they are convicted.
“The US is reluctant to cooperate on matters where the penalties seem disproportionate to the crime,” Edmonds said. But death sentences in China for those accused of corruption are increasingly being suspended and converted to life sentences.
In an unusual move, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in December that it was looking into the possibility of using local courts in the US to sue economic fugitives who had fled there and try them under US civil law.
About 680 suspects from some 69 countries and regions have returned to China since the government launched its “fox hunt” in July 2014, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said in a January press conference.
Editor’s Note: Many China experts believe this “corruption crackdown” is in reality a purge of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s political enemies.