During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Canada, foreign ministers of both sides signed an Agreement between China and Canada on Sharing and Return of Forfeited Assets on Thursday. This is China's first special agreement on asset recovery, marking a major progress in China's international judicial cooperation.
The new agreement has supplemented and specified the Treaty between China and Canada on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in relation to locating and transferring criminal proceeds. The agreement stipulates that assets should be returned to legitimate owners if confirmed. If the source of the criminal proceeds cannot be identified, the country seizing and holding the assets shall share the assets with the other country. The proportion of the assets to be shared will vary based on the extent of the cooperation given by the other country.
The new agreement can serve as a practical guidebook for legal enforcements of both countries to recover, return and share criminal proceeds. It will reinforce China and Canada's concerted actions to fight cross-border assets recovery, and mark a milestone for the Sino-Canadian cooperation in law enforcement.
China and Canada have long established coordination and cooperation over legal matters. In 1994, the two countries signed a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters which is the first such pact that China has signed with a foreign country. Recent years have seen major progress in legal cooperation between China and Canada. Canada has repatriated a few Chinese fugitives, including Lai Changxing, who fled to Canada and remained in hiding for 12 years. The positive trend of cooperation has been pushed further since China and Canada launched a regular consultation of judicial and law enforcement cooperation in 2008. There have been five rounds of talks under the framework, which has resulted in the recently concluded agreement.
China and Canada have also set up China-Canada High-Level National Security and Rule of Law Dialogue in early September, and initiated their first talk. Both countries have achieved consensus on some major issues including holding discussion about extradition treaty and treaty on the transfer of sentenced persons. China and Canada have shared mutual expectations about cooperation in this aspect, which is in line with the national interests of both countries.
The signing of the treaty is in line with the new trend of fighting crimes in the international community, and indicates China has adopted a new method to recover fugitives' illegal assets. Transfers of illegal assets by criminals, especially corrupt officials, to foreign countries have increased dramatically in a globalized world.
Due to the differences of legal systems, the recovery process is beset with difficulties. The international community has been seeking ways to overcome barriers and maximize the extent of cooperation in order to cut off the financial source of the fugitives, contain the momentum of crime, and protect the legitimate rights of these victims. The well-timed agreement will be a powerful weapon for China to more effectively recover the transferred State-owned assets and reinforce the global effort to fight corruption.
The new agreement is also a crucial step for China in building a more robust and comprehensive international network for judicial cooperation. Since the reform and opening-up, China has signed 79 treaties on mutual legal assistance with about 60 countries, signed extradition treaties with 46 countries, and engaged in work with many other countries in this regard.
China should take this opportunity to improve its domestic system of legal assistance. After gaining more experience and when conditions are right, China should sign assets recovery agreements with more countries and ramp up its effort to recover illegal assets overseas. The endeavor will profoundly improve international judicial cooperation and serve the all-out promotion of rule of law.
The author is Director-General of the Department of Treaty and Law in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. email@example.com