October 31, 2014 / 3:36 AM / 3 years ago

China says nets 180 graft suspects in overseas manhunt

China's President Xi Jinping arrives before the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing,March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - China says it has captured 180 people suspected of committing economic crimes as part of an aggressive anti-corruption campaign targeting suspects who have fled abroad, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The campaign, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt, included the arrests of 104 suspects, Xinhua said late on Thursday, citing China’s Ministry of Public Security. Seventy-six people returned to China to give themselves up, according to Xinhua.

The announcement came three months after the government launched the operation to hunt down officials and businessmen who have absconded, often taking their ill-gotten gains with them. The government has given no recent overall figure for the number at large around the world.

The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity Group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates that $1.08 trillion illegally flowed out of China from 2002 to 2011.

President Xi Jinping has launched a sweeping campaign against graft since assuming power two years ago, but has been hampered to an extent by difficulty in getting corrupt officials and assets back from overseas.

China does not have extradition treaties with the United States, Canada and Australia - the three most popular destinations for suspected economic criminals. In mid-October, Australian media reported that Australian police have agreed to assist China in the extradition and seizure of assets of corrupt Chinese officials.

Western governments have long been reluctant to hand over Chinese suspects because the ruling Communist Party controls the courts and torture can be used to extract confessions, according to legal experts.

“Thanks to cooperation and support of related countries and regions, the operation made ‘breakthroughs’ in Africa, South America, the South Pacific and Western Europe,” Xinhua said, citing the Ministry of Public Security.

Xinhua said China has sent 20 teams to Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia and other neighboring countries, arresting 75 suspects.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi appealed for international cooperation to fight corruption. Next month, countries attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing will agree to a deal to tackle graft.

State media have reported on spectacular details of some of the corruption cases the government has uncovered.

On Friday, Xinhua said that prosecutors had seized more than 200 million yuan ($32.7 million) in cash from the house of a senior energy official, the largest ever amount seized since the Communist Party took power in 1949.

The money was found at the home of Wei Pengyuan, a vice director of the National Energy Administration’s coal department, the report said.

Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence, Robert Birsel

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