Australia and China work together to deport officials suspected of corruption

By Phoenix Weekly Source:Agencies Published: 2015-8-11 19:13:02

Chinese police escort a fugitive caught in the "Fox Hunt." Photo: CFP

In April, China launched a new initiative to track down officials and those accused of economic crimes, the "Skynet" operation, which mostly focuses on people who fled to Western countries such as the US, Canada or Australia. The operation requires cooperation from Australia, but this joint effort has faced some hurdles.

Every evening, in a suburb near Perth, western Australia, Hu Yuxing goes on a walk with his wife and grandson.

Hu, 60, came to Australia in 2002 and his neighbors said he seemed to be a peaceful man who never got into an argument with anyone.

But earlier this year, he was seen brawling with a reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald, while his wife shrieked "It's the Chinese government's fault, we didn't do anything wrong," the Phoenix Weekly magazine reported. 

Hu was the director of the Housing Reform Office of Taiyuan, Shanxi Province in the 1990s. He allegedly committed financial malpractice and fled to Australia.

This April, the Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Group of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) launched a new initiative called "Skynet" to hunt down officials suspected of corruption and those accused of economic crimes that have fled overseas. The group issued a wanted list of 100 people, one of whom was Hu.

Avoiding the net

Unlike the "Fox Hunt" operation launched last year, which targeted fugitives hiding in Asia or Africa, the Skynet list directly targets people in Western countries. The US, Canada and New Zealand have 40, 26 and 11 fugitives respectively and Australia was the 4th popular hideout with 10 people.

Most of the officials and economic criminals on the run in Australia chose to live in big cities, like Sydney or Melbourne, where there are large Chinese communities, according to the Phoenix Weekly.

These individuals usually migrate to Australia in three ways. They either obtain Australian citizenship, send their family members abroad first and then join them later or start a Sino-Australian cooperation project and go there in the name of work before disappearing.

An insider told the Phoenix Weekly that these people are keen to transfer their ill-gotten gains to overseas bank accounts and some local lawyers and immigration agencies are helping them to do so.

Many found it easy to hide in these communities, until the Skynet list came out.

Hu Yuxing is one of those people. In 2002, the Taiyuan government launched an audit into its real estate and housing reform bureaus and found the Housing Reform Office had been abusing its power and had illegally lent out 319 million yuan ($50,419,000). Hu himself is accused of using his position to secure many business deals for personal profit.

But when the Taiyuan procuratorate was preparing to prosecute Hu, he disappeared.

Then came 10 years of silence, until the Skynet list was made public.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, when its reporter found Hu and asked him about the list, he became agitated, punched the reporter in the face and threw his camera on the ground.

Last year, the Australian government declared it will work with China to track down the people on the wanted list.

Hiding tigers

Some suspect the 100-person list is only the first phase of Skynet. When it was released, people were surprised that some famous corrupt officials were not on the list, such as  Gao Yan.

Nobody foresaw Gao's escape. He was once the governor of Jilin Province, and later became the CEO of China State Grid.

He often used his power to secure  deals for his relatives. With his help, his family signed contracts for 18 electric engineering projects, with a total worth of 500 million yuan.

His son, Gao Xinyuan, also acquired projects for acquaintances. The bribes he received totaled more than 10 million yuan.

In 2002, Gao Yan fled to Australia.

In 2003, the Hubei procuratorate detained Gao Xinyuan and sentenced him to five years in prison. He was released in 2008 and never appeared in public again. Along with him, the chances of finding his father also seem to have vanished.

The Phoenix Weekly checked Australian voter registration, company registration and real estate trade records, but couldn't find either Gao Yan or Gao Xinyuan's names.

A journalist in Australia told the Phoenix Weekly that Gao might have changed his identity and may have even gotten plastic surgery, making it more difficult to track him down.

If Gao is still alive, he would now be 73. There isn't much time left to bring him to justice. But finding and deporting these people requires a great deal of effort from the Australian authorities.

Honeymoon over?

During the 2014 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Beijing, Australia and other member countries signed the "Anti-Corruption Declaration," a gesture seen as a precursor to beginning operations to track down China's fugitive officials and economic criminals. 

The Australian Federal Police told media in the following few months that Australian and Chinese police were beginning to cooperate to crack down on illegal financial trading and money laundering. Also, the two countries' police forces had confirmed a wanted list.

At that time, Australian media reported in depth the cooperation between the two countries, according to the Phoenix Weekly. Some commented that Australia shouldn't be a safe haven for Chinese fugitives.

But now the "honeymoon period" seems to be over, after about half a year of cooperation. Controversies have started to appear, especially after the Chinese police arrested an official with Australian citizenship, Xie Renliang.

Xie was CEO of a company in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. In 1996, in order to save his company from bankruptcy, he forged the official seal of a stocks company and used it to stamp contracts with companies under the financial department of the Shanghai government. He secured more than 100 million yuan for investment.

In 1997, Xie's tactics failed. He took what was left of the money and escaped to Australia using an alias.

In March this year, Xie came back to Zhejiang. Customs officials notified the Shanghai police that Xie's appearance matched the description on the arrest warrant and the police took him into custody.

He is the first Australian citizen to be arrested since the Chinese government launched this series of campaigns. And because of his identity, some in Australia worry that Xie might receive an unfair trial in China.

Of the 10 Skynet fugitives living in Australia, at least five own property in the country or have citizenship or permanent residency.

A shift in the Australian government's attitude has also been evident. The Phoenix Weekly reported that after Xie's arrest, Australia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to comment, and the federal police clarified that they did not cooperate with Chinese police in the arrest.

There is no extradition agreement between China and Australia, which makes these arrests difficult, especially as Canberra's feeling about this cooperation is cooling. Therefore, the Chinese police often uses intermediaries to secretly get in touch with fugitives, according to the Phoenix Weekly.

But this too has run into trouble.

According to the Melbourne-based The Age, in December 2012, the police bureau of Rizhao, Shandong Province sent two people to Australia to persuade a fugitive to come back to China. It's reported that the Chinese police didn't inform the Australian police or foreign ministry ahead of time, but instead entered Australia undercover.

The Australian government and police claimed the Chinese police behaved inappropriately and also met with Chinese diplomats to express their concern.

Angry Aussies 

Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is local public sentiment. Right now, many Australians are unhappy about rising house prices and are blaming Chinese investors.

In 2014, house prices in Sydney rose by 15 percent, with prices in the suburbs increasing by 27 percent.

According to data from Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board, between 2012 and 2013, Chinese nationals invested a total of 6 billion Australian dollars ($4.4 billion) in real estate, surpassing Americans and Canadians and becoming the biggest foreign investment group.

In these couple of years, the media also reported regularly on Chinese officials buying luxury houses, and these investors are seen as the main factor driving up the prices.

In May, an Australian named Nick Folkes set up an anti-Chinese investment Facebook page. He has called for Australians to surround the Chinese consulate in Sydney and uploaded a video of himself burning the Chinese national flag.

"Even though this is an extreme act, one should see that the Australian public is changing their attitudes," a media commentator told the Phoenix Weekly. These kinds of campaigns might pressure the government into action.

No matter what the Australian government's attitude is right now, the Chinese government has shown its eagerness to chase down these fugitives.

Some Australian media have said that the CCDI made the 100-person list public in order to put pressure on the officials and economic criminals, and persuade them to return home voluntarily.

Phoenix Weekly

Newspaper headline: On the run down under

Posted in: In-Depth

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