“My father has set a good example for me. He is a successful businessman in other people’s eyes but to me, he is a modest person who never gives up,” says Linda Ching (程頌蓮) in the December 2014 issue of the New Leaf Weekly (新楓周刊), a Chinese publication in British Columbia, Canada.
Linda, chairwoman of the British Columbia division of the youth wing of Canada’s Liberal Party and a freshman in political science at the University of British Columbia, is portrayed in the magazine’s cover story as a rising star and a role model for her fellow ethnic Chinese in the nation.
But Linda may not want to dwell too much about how she and her parents became Vancouverites, and their many but hidden links to China.
Her grandfather is Cheng Weigao (程維高), the former party chief of Hebei, the province that encircles Beijing and Tianjin. Cheng was sacked from his post in 2003 and was subsequently stripped of his Communist Party membership. He died seven years later.
Linda’s father, meanwhile, is Cheng Muyang (程慕陽), an active real-estate developer in Vancouver – probably helped by shady money from China – and is now on the list of Beijing’s most wanted suspects, together with others that are at large in Canada and the United States.
The reason why Linda’s surname is spelt in the Cantonese way – “Ching” rather than “Cheng” – is probably because she was born in Hong Kong, thus, she has the right of abode in the territory on top of her Canadian nationality. Her father also emigrated via Hong Kong more than a decade ago after the older Cheng fell foul of corruption investigators.
In a rare high-profile move at the end of last month, Beijing made public a list of up to 100 “runaway” civil servants who are suspected of corruption and economic crimes.
The list, posted on the website of the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, has been dispatched to the International Criminal Police Organization in a bid to get the fugitives extradited, according to mainland media reports.
Beijing’s manhunt warrants are said to be in the red color, falling in the top priority category.
Most of the alleged offenders have fled to the US and Canada, while New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Thailand also figure among the popular destinations.
The reason why Linda – who said in the interview that she wants to be a lawyer to uphold justice and serve the poor – can be a rising star in the local political circle in Canada is because her father is extremely resourceful and well-connected and has donated substantially to the Liberal Party.
The New Leaf Weekly also hints that party leader Justin Trudeau, elder son of the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, maintains close ties with Linda — whose father insists that he is innocent and dismisses Beijing’s charges.
The Cheng family stands out as an exception, the Southern Weekend notes, as most Chinese fugitives keep a low profile in their host countries.
In Canada, the “runaways” tend to cluster in Vancouver and Toronto but they seldom socialize with the local Chinese community. They like to make one-off payment, with ill-gotten money sneaked abroad, for penthouses and other good things in life.
A mainland student studying in Vancouver told this reporter that there are children of Communist Party officials in his school. Due to a stepped-up anti-graft drive in China, parents of some of his classmates — possibly government officials or executives of state-owned enterprises from wealthy coastal counties — have fled to Canada through stopovers in Hong Kong or Macau.
Most of them live on the money they transferred overseas in advance.
In the US, Los Angeles and New York are the usual destinations for these suspects. If the cadres are from Guangdong or Fujian, they are likely to head for New York as they may have relatives living there. Understandably, high living costs in these big cities never bother them.
Recently, an online forum popular with Chinese expats in the US has been abuzz with talk of a lavish wedding in the community.
The bride was said to be the daughter of the mayor of a rich second-tier city in China. The wedding, which is said have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, took place in the Langham Huntington, a heritage boutique hotel in Los Angeles.
Cameramen from Hollywood were deployed to record the event while celebrity performers were roped in to entertain the guests.
According to the grapevine, the daughter has decided not to return to China as she fears that her father could be nailed down at any time amid the current anti-corruption crackdown.
Now, coming to the question of whether Washington and Ottawa will cooperate with Beijing to deport the “most wanted” persons, observers point out that their governments are not obliged to recognize Beijing’s warrants as there are no extradition agreements in place.
Political prosecution and death penalty can be another sticky point. Also, as some immigration agents note, US and Canadian authorities normally will not investigate a new arrival once he is granted residency.
A probe will be launched only if officials find concrete evidence of “conspiracy to defraud” in the residency permit application process.
It remains to be seen if the rumored US visit by China’s anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan (王岐山) will lead to any change in the stance of American officials.
As for Linda in Canada, the latest we hear is that the Liberal Party has decided to remove her from her post.
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