In a move that will hopefully make hundreds of corrupt Chinese officials who fled overseas with their ill-gotten gains extremely nervous, China ratified the U.N. Convention Against Corruption on October 27. The treaty will come into effect on December 14 and is expected to pave the way for increased international cooperation for the extradition back to China of those officials who embezzled public money and fled abroad.
Chinese police authorities have said that, as of the end of 2004, more than 500 Chinese suspects of economic crimes, mostly corrupt officials or executives of state-owned companies, were at large in foreign countries. They took with them a total of 70 billion yuan (US$8.4 billion) of public funds, and only a fraction have been extradited to China.
The U.N. convention contains a variety of measures on international corruption including prevention, the criminalization of specific acts, international cooperation, assets recovery and implementation mechanisms.
Since 1998, only about 70 officials, out of a total of hundreds have been sent back through legal cooperation with other countries. China currently has extradition treaties with a motley collection of only 22 countries. Even the HK SAR Government has failed to agree on such a treaty with the Mainland.
However, there was a positive breakthrough in April when the U.S. arrested the three notorious Bank of China, Kaiping Branch managers and their families on immigration fraud charges. Their arrests followed examination of criminal evidence received from the Chinese police. One of the trio, Yu Zhendong, was escorted to Beijing by U.S. law enforcement officers. In order to secure his extradition, China agreed not to torture or execute him and Yu Zhendong agreed to a a maximum 12-year jail sentence.
The U.S. has long been thought of as a safe haven for Chinese criminals as they have traditionally refused to extradite criminals because of the danger of them being executed. China has always accused the U.S. of hypocracy as many U.S. states practice the death penalty. However, in the case of the three Bank of China Kaiping mangers, China has showed a willingness to guarantee that criminals will not face execution and the U.S. has reponded positively.
Let’s hope that every single Chinese official currently living a life of luxury abroad will be sent back to China to face the lengthy jail terms that they so richly deserve.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.