SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police have agreed to assist China in the extradition and seizure of assets of corrupt Chinese officials who have fled with hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit funds, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Monday.
The joint operation would make its first seizure of assets in Australia within weeks, the newspaper quoted Bruce Hill, manager of Australian Federal Police (AFP) operations in Asia, as saying in an interview.
AFP officials in Canberra had no immediate comment.
China announced in July an operation called Fox Hunt to go after corrupt officials who have fled overseas with their ill-gotten gains, part of President Xi Jinping’s broader crackdown on graft.
Getting such cooperation from Australia would be a coup for Beijing, which has struggled to get its hands on suspects in Western countries, whose governments have been reluctant to hand over wanted Chinese because of concerns over whether they would get fair trials back home.
The United States, Canada and Australia are the three most popular destinations for suspected Chinese economic criminals, Chinese state media has said.
Australia and China had agreed on a priority list of alleged economic fugitives who have taken residence in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald said.
Among the suspects identified by the AFP were naturalized Australian citizens and permanent residents who for years had laundered money under the guise of being genuine investment or business migrants from China, it added.
The priority list agreed between China’s Ministry of Public Security and the AFP was culled from a broader list of “less than a 100 people”, Hill told the paper, adding that the assets being pursued by China in Australia were in the “many hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Australia and China don’t have an extradition agreement, but the Australian attorney general can consider extradition requests for offences under the U.N. Convention against Corruption, which Canberra and Beijing are both parties to.
“We only see what’s on face value, this person has committed an offense,” Hill said. “There is a human rights side; we need to make sure that we’re monitoring that as well, that this is not done for political expediency where we can.”
The sums of money believed to have been spirited out of China from all types of malfeasance are staggering. The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates that $2.83 trillion flowed illegally out of China from 2005 to 2011.
Last week, Australia took steps to boost a visa scheme aimed at luring investment from wealthy Chinese, including speeding up approvals and expanding investment avenues.
Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Dean Yates