PARIS (Reuters) - France is ready to help China track down people suspected of corruption who may be on French soil, and does not rule out extraditing any it finds to Beijing, a justice ministry official said.
As part of an anti-corruption drive under President Xi Jinping, China is pursuing overseas-based fugitives in a campaign known as Operation Fox Hunt.
Robert Gelli, the French justice ministry’s director of criminal affairs, told Reuters that Chinese authorities would shortly send their French counterparts a list of people suspected of “getting rich from corruption and seeking refuge in other countries, or investing this money in other countries”.
The list is expected to contain about 10 names, of whom two or three are thought to be in France, Gelli said. The rest may now be elsewhere in Europe, but have current or previous links to France.
China has so far arrested 288 fugitives suspected of committing economic crimes, the official news agency Xinhua has said, citing activities in 56 countries. The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity Group estimates that $1.08 trillion illegally flowed out of China from 2002 to 2011.
The three most popular destinations for corruption suspects are the United States, Canada and Australia, with which China does not have extradition treaties. Australian police, however, said in October they would help Beijing find and seize the assets of corrupt Chinese officials, news media reported.
A Franco-Chinese extradition treaty agreed in 2007, despite opposition from human rights groups, has still not been ratified by France’s parliament.
But Gelli, who last month visited his counterpart in Beijing, said the possibility of handing back suspects to China was “not at all excluded” if China met French demands and agreed not to impose the death penalty. Any extraditions would need to go through an appeals court and be signed by the prime minister.
For its part, France has asked China for more help in investigating illegal wire transfers, which have risen sharply in the past two years. Officials say French companies have lost some 300 million euros ($370 million) in this manner, the bulk of it ending up in Chinese bank accounts. France has made 70 requests for cooperation from China in its investigations since 2010 but has received very low response rates, Gelli said. Underscoring the importance of relations with China, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has visited the country more often than any other, with nine trips since May 2012.
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Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Mark Trevelyan