In October 2013, a Chinese man named Su Guanlin paid A$1.3 million (US$1.14 million) for a well-appointed villa in an expensive northern suburb of Sydney.
Then he applied to the city government for permission to spend A$500,000 on a two-story addition with five bedrooms.
The purchase went unnoticed until October this year, when Su’s father, Su Shunhu, a former deputy director of the transport department of the Ministry of Railways, was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption.
Evidence from the case revealed that, between December 2008 and January 2010, Su senior made 16 payments via Hong Kong and Nanchang, Jiangxi province, to the accounts of his son and daughter-in-law in Sydney, enough to buy three properties in the city.
This is the typical story of the ‘naked cadre””, who sends his wife and children overseas, sends them money to establish residence rights and joins them before he gets caught.
Australia is one of the most popular destinations; 6.5 per cent of Sydney’s population of 4.6 million is Chinese, providing a large community in which the cadre can live comfortably.
Chinese account for more than 90 per cent of applicants for the Significant Investor Visa scheme Canberra introduced in 2012. The program offers residency to overseas individuals who invest more than A$5 million in Australia.
It is families like the Sus who are the target of the Foxhunt 2014 campaign the Ministry of Public Security launched on July 22.
The numbers are staggering. Over the last 20 years, 18,000 officials have fled abroad, taking with them over 800 billion yuan (US$131 billion), more than the annual revenue of China Telecom.
The rich and powerful go to Australia, Canada and the United States, none of which has an extradition treaty with Beijing. All have large Chinese communities and robust legal systems, with lawyers eager to help them for a fee.
The less senior officials, with smaller amounts of money, go to Thailand, Myanmar, Mongolia and Russia.
Those who cannot obtain visas for the west go to Africa, Latin America and Hong Kong, as a transition place before moving on. China has extradition treaties with 38 countries.
The Foxhunt campaign is the most high-profile attempt Beijing has ever made to retrieve the cadres and their fortunes.
On Oct. 30, the ministry reported on its first 100 days: 104 officials had been brought back and 76 ordered to return, with 44 of them having assets over 10 million yuan.
It has sent 20 teams of officers to Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Cambodia. They have helped in the arrest of 75 people.
Vice-minister Liu Jin-guo said the ministry had accelerated its surveillance work, especially in the provinces with the largest number of cases.
“We have ordered public security organs everywhere to make the repatriation of these criminals their priority and encourage the public to report on them,” he said.
President Xi Jinping has put the hunt for the “foxes” among the top items of his foreign policy agenda.
The countries attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last week signed an anti-corruption proclamation and agreed to set up a law enforcement network among the APEC members to cooperate in catching economic fugitives and recovering stolen assets.
Zhang Jianping, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission, said the process of finding such fugitives and extraditing them from the US, Canada and Australia had been very difficult.
“Setting up a system will enable the authorities to track down and bring back these people with high efficiency,” he said.
Beijing has applied growing pressure on these countries this year to secure their help in investigating the cadres.
But, for the destination countries, it is not a simple matter. They are competing with other countries to attract foreign capital to boost weak economic growth, and Chinese are among the biggest sources of this capital.
For tax or privacy reasons, it is often hard to establish the source of an investor’s money.
Second, the fugitives and their families are quick to establish residency and citizenship in foreign countries and seek the best legal help they can afford.
They have several avenues to block extradition, including an appeal for political asylum.
Their lawyers argue that the Chinese legal system uses torture to extract confessions, sentences many to death and is under political control, so that their clients will not receive a fair trial.
They also say that, despite their well-publicised anti-corruption campaign, Beijing’s leaders refuse to publish the assets held by themselves and their families.
All this makes western governments and their societies hesitate.
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